Two of California’s most distinguished minority nurses, both of whom have devoted much of their careers to mentoring, teaching and developing training programs for students from underserved communities entering health care professions, were honored this summer by The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) as the inaugural winners of its Champion of Health Professions Diversity Award. At an awards ceremony in Los Angeles, Linda Burnes Bolton, RN, DrPH, FAAN, and Pilar De La Cruz-Reyes, RN, MSN, each received a $25,000 grant in recognition of their pioneering achievements.

“Each of these champions has developed innovative and effective practices that promote diversity in California’s health workforce,” says Alicia Procello, TCWF program director for the Diversity in Health Professions Priority Area. “As a result of their efforts, many more health professionals are working in traditionally underserved communities, helping to decrease the well-documented disparities in health for people of color in our state.”

Both of the winners are high-ranking nurse executives who overcame significant barriers to rise to the top of their profession. Burnes Bolton, who made history as the first African American to graduate from the Arizona State School of Nursing, is vice president and chief nursing officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Research Institute in Los Angeles, where she instituted a cultural competence training program for all staff.

As a faculty member at both UCLA and the University of California, San Francisco, Burnes Bolton actively recruits and supports minority applicants for admission into the graduate nursing program and has mentored eight doctoral students from communities of color in the UC system. She also promotes equal opportunity by serving on the California Strategic Planning for Nursing Committee on Diversity and on the editorial board of Hispanic Health Care International, the journal of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. In addition, she advised on the formation of the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association.

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Pilar De La Cruz-Reyes grew up in a migrant worker family, laboring in the fields by day and studying at night. After earning her BSN and MSN degrees from California State University, Dominguez Hills, she began her career at Community Medical Centers (CMC) in Fresno as a staff nurse. Working her way up through the management ranks, she progressed from frontline manager of acute critical care to director of nursing services to executive director of the Community University and education development services. She is currently chief nurse executive at the Fresno Heart Hospital.

De La Cruz Reyes, who has personally mentored over 35 young people who sought health care careers, has initiated many programs that championed the needs of underserved communities. At CMC she established the hospital’s first Cultural Competency Task Force. In collaboration with Fresno City College, she developed the Nursing Paradigm Program, which provides training for hospital employees to enter the nursing profession. She also developed the Community Job Institute, which provides opportunities for low-income minority parents in the local community to get work experience and training at the hospital.

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