Santos an Emerging Leader in Purdue HHS and soon in the nursing field

Itzel Santos

Itzel Santos is a senior in the Purdue University School of Nursing, who has benefitted from experience in the Emerging Leaders program as well as a summer internship at the famed Mayo Clinic.Tim Brouk

Written by: Tim Brouk,

When Purdue University nursing senior Itzel Santos was in middle school, a near family tragedy launched her career trajectory.

The Lowell, Indiana, native’s beloved grandmother suffered a major stroke. She had an extensive stay in Chicago’s Rush University Hospital. While Grandma Evertina convalesced, young Santos noticed the care and communication the nurses gave to the Spanish-speaking family matriarch. While grateful for their care in her grandma’s recovery, Santos was inspired too.

“They were so helpful. They would explain everything that my grandmother was going through, what was normal,” she remembered. “It was really cool to see how one good nurse can impact your entire stay and impact your health.”

A decade later, her grandma is back in Chicago enjoying her garden, and Santos is a leading student in the Purdue School of Nursing. Already a licensed nursing assistant, she recently completed a 10-week immersive internship at the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She was among nursing student interns from all over the world at the facility, which is considered one of the top hospitals in the nation. There, she worked three 12-hour shifts a week in the family medicine unit. First, she shadowed full-time nurses, but by the end of the internship, Santos took the lead on caring for patients, who ranged in age from 19-103.

“Overall, I think my confidence grew a lot, and my experience grew exponentially,” she said.

Itzel Santos stands with fellow Purdue nursing students in front of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Santos, right, stands with fellow Purdue nursing students Isabella Vogdes, left, and James Shepard in front of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

While she hooked up IVs and administered medications, Santos not only leaned on her Purdue nursing training and critical thinking skills, but she also drew from leadership and personal growth she received from the Purdue Emerging Leaders Scholars program.

Santos entered Emerging Leaders the summer before her first year at Purdue began. She was paired with a mentor and received guidance to navigate her new giant leap toward a career.

“It was during COVID, so I had so many questions,” said Santos, who attended the Emerging Leaders’ first study abroad trip to Brazil in May. “My mentor helped me figure it all out.”

Santos’ leadership skills enhanced with each year at Purdue. The oldest of three, she always had a caring personality and willingness to help when watching her younger sisters. Those traits have come through with her successes in West Lafayette and during her Mayo Clinic internship.

“I’ve always been the helper all of the time,” Santos said.

Recent clinicals at Community Hospital North in Indianapolis gave Santos pivotal labor and delivery experience. One shift saw the student help deliver eight babies in one day. Santos’ time at Mayo and in clinicals also tested her bilingual medical terminology as she served as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients.

“It was so much fun. Helping deliver those eight babies was the most exhilarating day I ever had,” Santos recalled.

While Grandma Evertina received exceptional care and encountered nurses who could speak Spanish, Santos knows that isn’t always the case for Spanish-speaking patients. Being bilingual could not only assure family members but perhaps save lives in critical situations where accurate communication is critical. She recently went with her grandfather to a chemotherapy appointment and had to serve as a translator throughout the appointment.

As she eyes a May graduation, Santos is near ready to give skilled and compassionate care to patients, just like those nurses did 10 years ago in Chicago with her grandma. “After COVID, I think we’ve realized the difference a good nurse can really make,” Santos said. “As of right now, all of the health care facilities I’ve been to have been so welcoming. I’ve never had a bad experience. I think we’re getting prepared for the next wave of new nurses. I’m excited.”