Joni Swenson (1st Quarter, 2006)

by Josh Barsch on August 20, 2010

1st Quarter, 2006
Dale E. Fridell Scholarship Winner
Joni Swenson
University of Washington

My career goal is to become a nurse in order to help improve the quality of health care provided to King County, Washington’s Latino community. My Spanish fluency, experience working with the Latino community and my zeal to attend to patients in need have fueled my passion to achieve this goal. I am pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Washington because of the nursing program’s excellent reputation.

A Portion of Joni’s Winning Essay:

My career goal is to become a nurse in order to help improve the quality of health care provided to King County, Washington’s Latino community. My Spanish fluency, experience working with the Latino community and my zeal to attend to patients in need have fueled my passion to achieve this goal. I am pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Washington because of the nursing program’s excellent reputation.Once I have earned a nursing degree, I anticipate providing high-quality, culturally competent health care to Spanish speakers in their own language. After several years in this field, I hope to be able to utilize my experiential knowledge to tailor our health care system’s services to address the needs of the Spanish-speaking community.

Joni Swenson

Joni Swenson

My own immersion with diverse populations by serving for two years as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia; volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel for five months and participating in a study abroad program in Spain for one year, make me uniquely prepared for serving patients from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. I am a patient listener and excellent communicator with people for whom English is not their first language. In Mongolia, I worked in a small provincial capital, where I experienced firsthand the harsh realities of life in an underdeveloped country. Having lived (and fallen ill) in foreign countries, I can sympathize with the courage, obstacles and fears faced by those who have left home for the United States.

After returning from the Peace Corps, I began working as a personal injury paralegal for a bilingual law firm serving King, Pierce and Snohomish counties’ Latino communities. As I became acquainted with the numerous barriers faced by my clients, I seized opportunities to be an advocate for their health care needs. I fought for clients denied care at emergency rooms, threatened with deportation by insurance company representatives and deceived by their insurers regarding their insurance eligibility and the scope of their coverage. I encountered many Latinos in the Seattle area who wrongly believed that medical care was categorically unavailable to them, or worried that their inability to speak English would limit them to inferior health care. I informed clients of their health care rights and directed them to Latino-friendly providers. I embraced the health care aspects of my work: client intake and interaction, medical records analysis, interpreting at medical appointments and performing legal injury assessments. I continue to work at the same firm as a paralegal supervisor and human resources coordinator.


Since my 1999 move to Seattle, I have volunteered for a number of Seattle-area nonprofit agencies and community organizations. My contributions include serving as block watch captain, disaster aid and response team coordinator, translator for a bilingual parent support organization, English language tutor for Latino immigrants and clinic aide at a Spanish/English community health center. I presently volunteer at Sea Mar Community Health Center, a nonprofit clinic that caters to primarily low-income and Spanish-speaking patients. I assist doctors, nurses and medical assistants and take patients’ vital signs. This clinic provides outstanding service to the Latino population, and I have learned much by observing interactions between patients and health-care personnel in Spanish. I have also committed to 100 hours of volunteer service in the emergency department of Highline Medical Center, starting in January, 2006.

The challenges Latinos face in our community extend to obtaining high-quality health care. People are at their most vulnerable when they are ill or injured, and for many Latinos in our community these conditions are overwhelming when combined with language barriers, poverty and immigration status concerns. Working as a nurse will allow me to make a difference by providing care directly in Spanish so that Latino patients can feel at ease and know that they are being treated equally. After gaining sufficient experience, I plan to explore ways to institute changes in our health care system to benefit members of Seattle’s growing Latino population. Examples of such changes include developing comprehensive bilingual health care training programs and promoting campaigns to attract Latinos to the health care arena.

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