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Student serves as nurse on front lines

Student serves as nurse on front lines

By Margaret McKinney
Highlands University


Tanya Tohtsoni, a Navajo and registered nurse-bachelor’s of science in nursing student at New Mexico Highlands University, is on the front lines as a nurse serving the hard-hit Navajo Nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Courtesy photo | Terradena Tsosie-Yazzie
Tanya Tohtsoni is a nurse discharge specialist overseeing the COVID-19 unit at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock.

Tohtsoni also won a $1,000 Florence Nightingale Foundation scholarship in April 2020, the second year in a row she has received the honor. She has maintained a 4.0 GPA to date and is on track to graduate in December 2020. Tohtsoni, who has been a nurse for 10 years, said her Navajo heritage motivates her every day.

She is a nurse discharge specialist overseeing the COVID-19 unit at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock. “We’re dealing with a high COVID-19 confirmation rate on the Navajo Nation,” she said. “I coordinate care for COVID-19 patients at the hospital. In the online RN-BSN program at Highlands I’ve learned about nurses needing to be flexible and adaptive, which has been very important during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Tohtsoni said nursing is her way of giving back to her Navajo people. “In my nursing career, I want to continue to provide assistance to my native Diné people,” she said. “I am very committed to my Diné community. Working in a rural area, I see there are limited resources. I know continuing my education will allow me to give my patients the best care possible.”

Tohtsoni said her clans are Water-Flows-Together and Folding-Arms. She grew up in Teec Nos Poz, Arizona, and lives in Kirtland, New Mexico. “In Diné culture, a baby’s umbilical cord is buried in a location where’s it’s hoped the child will return,” she said. “My umbilical cord was buried at my late maternal grandparents’ home and I’ve always felt that is where my heart lies.

“I have gained strength in my Navajo upbringing and I’m blessed to have experienced growing up on the reservation,” she said. “I believe my experiences growing up Navajo, both challenges and opportunities, shape who I am along with my Christian faith.”

Tohstoni said her parents, Jerry and Marilyn Huskay, were a huge influence in her life and pursuit of nursing.

Tohtsoni said Beatrice Hurtado, one of her Highlands nursing professors, has helped her grow enormously in nursing knowledge including practical on-the-job applications. “Beatrice Hurtado allowed me to see different aspects of nursing beyond bedside manner such as advocacy for patients and policy changes for patient care,” Tohtsoni said. “I also learned about low health literacy and how to address the barriers it causes, which is a really big concern on the reservation.”

Tohtsoni said it has been extraordinary to go through the online Highlands RN-BSN program with her cousin, Terradena Tsosie-Yazzie. “Terradena is like my sister and going through the experience together has strengthened our bond,” she said. “We help motivate each other.”

She said she also draws motivation from her 15-year-old daughter, Shan’diin. “Each night after I complete my shift at the hospital, we sit together at the kitchen table and do our homework,” Tohtsoni said. Tohtsoni said losing her two maternal grandparents and paternal grandmother to cancer galvanized her to study nursing.

“There is a special place in a nurse’s heart that draws them to the type of work that we do,” she said. “It brings us all together as our binding character trait. I’m proud to be a nurse and it will be part of my identity forever.”

Looking ahead, Tohtsoni said her long-term goal is to be a nursing educator someday. “My career vision is to pursue my master’s degree in nursing education,” she said. “I have always had a passion for educating and providing knowledge to my patients. I also really enjoy working with new nurses on the unit in an educator capacity.”


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