Nursing talent liaison for Greater Milwaukee, Advocate Aurora Health
Nonprofit served: National Association of Hispanic Nurses Greater Milwaukee
Service: Founding president
When Erika Colón was a high school junior at South Division High School in Milwaukee, she participated in a summer internship at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Colón, who grew up in Puerto Rico before moving to Milwaukee in high school to learn English, hadn’t considered a health care career before then.
She soon realized it was the field for her.
“I was most impressed by the role of the nurse,” Colón said. “It seemed like a lot of people touched the patient and came to see the patient, but throughout the day, the patient was with the nurse. Everyone went to the nurse. The nurse knew everything about the patient.”
Today, Colón is committed to seeing a diverse pipeline of nurses enter the Milwaukee area workforce.
“I want to provide what I really needed when I was young,” Colón said. “There are a lot of things that I think I would have done better had I had a mentor early in my career. The systems just weren’t in place for me to have that. That’s why I’m passionate about it.”
Following years of working as a nurse, she now serves as nursing talent liaison for Advocate Aurora Health, through which she creates partnerships with organizations and schools to encourage young people into nursing, with a specific focus on people of color.
This year, she and three fellow nurses launched the fully volunteer-run Greater Milwaukee chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, a role Colón considers to be her “second full-time job.” The association has grown to include more than 70 members, filling a need in the health care community for camaraderie and support. It’s not uncommon for a Hispanic nurse to be the only one in her unit.
“Support networks are particularly important for young nurses,” she added. “When you’re in your first years, it takes some time to develop medical critical thinking skills and other professional and communication skills. At times, nurses that either have an accent or English is not their primary language or are from a different cultural background, they have another barrier or hurdle to go over.”
Members also volunteer in the community, providing bilingual and culturally-competent health screenings, education and other services.
Colón is also a mentor for nursing students from underrepresented groups through Marquette University, a member of the Milwaukee Latino Health Coalition Steering Committee and a volunteer with the Milwaukee Junior Fire Institute.
All of her work is aimed at helping promote a health care ecosystem that is more representative of the wider Milwaukee community.