Even if she’s on track to become a pediatric nurse, many of Angelica Henry’s early adult patients often breathed a sigh of relief when she arrived in their hospital rooms. Working as a translator during nursing school (she is fluent in Spanish, originally hailing from Puerto Rico), Henry’s cultural competency is more than skin deep. It’s also based on an empathy derived from caring for her mother and her deep understanding of illness and grief after losing her elder sister to cancer, experiences that, today, have everything to do with the compassionate tenor and quality of her care.
“When it comes down to it, I can understand where a lot of people come from,” explains Henry. “If a single mom comes in with small children. If a small child comes in with her grandparents, if a child has cancer, or if a person comes in who’s homeless, I can understand those things in a very real, very basic way because I’ve been there. I can say to a patient, ‘I understand,’ along with, ‘I’m here to help.’”
Henry spent her early years between her grandparents’ home and the one she lived in with her older sister, Raquel. The sisters shared everything, including a ferocious protectiveness of their mother, who, for a time, was locked in an abusive relationship before striking out on her own, her two young children in tow.
But harder times were yet to come. Henry was only six when Raquel, then seven, was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma, a cancer that spread from her adrenal gland into her bone marrow. After years of treatment at an Orlando, Fl., cancer center – and navigating the terrifying waters of illness with limited English—Raquel died at 10. Henry was only nine.
Years later, Henry bounced between Florida and Puerto Rico before settling in Miami. UVA’s programs attracted her, and when she was accepted with a generous financial aid package, Henry leapt.
And if her nursing is informed by her backstory, she says she isn’t too different from many of her peers who are motivated to care for others.
“Everyone goes into nursing with the initial motivation of wanting to care for people, and do it well,” she says. “We all have that in common.”