BSN student Valeria Soria Guzman has been translating for her parents for as long as she can remember. She knows three languages so far – and is learning two more – and she aspires to use her polylingual abilities to increase access and equity for health care patients through the nursing field.

“It’s so hard when you’re sick and when you’re at your lowest point and to not have somebody who understands you,” says Guzman. “To not have somebody who can share that compassion with you in your own language is difficult.”

Guzman moved to the U.S. from Mexico with her family when she was two years old. She is a first-year nursing student at the Bill and Sue Gross School of Nursing at the University of California Irvine (UCI), and she is also the first in her entire family to attend college.

After learning English in the third grade, Guzman found that her background in Spanish made it easy for her to pick up other languages as well. Aside from English and Spanish, Guzman also knows French, is working on American Sign Language and has just begun to dip her toes into Portuguese. As a child, Guzman became her family’s translator at more than just the grocery store – she found herself translating at medical offices, filling out complicated documents with her limited children’s vocabulary of English, and trying to get both her parents and the physicians to understand each other.

“I feel like that’s why I want to go into nursing specifically so that I can walk a patient through the treatment and help them along the way, even if they don’t speak the language,” she says.

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Guzman is constantly seeking opportunities at UCI to help those facing a language barrier, especially in the medical field. Currently, she works on the translating team for a research study that is looking for ways to help dementia patients through technology.

“A lot of their patients are lower income and Spanish-speaking only,” Guzman says. “So what I do is translate documents, like ones from the research, into Spanish so the researchers can have focus groups with these Spanish-speaking participants.”

Guzman sees the accessibility of documents in languages other than English as a major point in achieving accessible care. In the future, she plans to use her abilities to serve non-English speaking communities wherever she is most needed. She especially wants to serve areas lacking in non-Spanish speakers, even if it means leaving the large Spanish-speaking community that she values so much behind.

“The thing I’ve missed most since coming to UCI is speaking Spanish in a community setting, and I feel like that’s why I like to seek out a bunch of different Spanish speaking opportunities because I want to have that again,” says Guzman. 

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