Karla Torres '19

BS | Health Care Navigation

Karla Torres '19

Students are often warned that switching their major late in their college career will delay their graduation date significantly, but one Mount Mercy student proved that stereotype wrong.

In her junior year of nursing school, Karla Torres ’19 changed her major to health care navigation—a major that didn’t even exist her freshman year—without extending her graduation date.

Torres was influenced greatly by her family’s experience when she chose to attend college. Growing up, Torres saw the college experience as a way to better herself and her future. Her aunt and uncle attended college, but they were unable to finish due to a language barrier.

Torres is part of a Spanish-speaking family. She arrived in the United States when she was around 5- or 6-years-old. Her father decided to move their family to Cedar Rapids after visiting Torres’ aunt, who lived there at the time.

“He said he felt we would have better opportunities here and it was a lot safer overall,” Torres said. Her father felt that Cedar Rapids was a community that he could see his kids grow up in.

Education was always important to Torres because of her parents’ experiences. As they weren’t able to go to school in Mexico nor when they came to the U.S., they ended up working long hours in hard-labor jobs.

“Growing up, I didn’t see my parents a lot because they often worked all day or so. That’s not something my parents wanted for us,” Torres said.

When in high school, she decided she wanted to attend a higher education institution, but for reasons higher than herself.

“I wanted to keep going to college and receive a higher education—not just for me, but to set an example for the rest of the kids in my family,” she said.

Nursing was the obvious choice for Torres after spending time with her grandfather at various doctors’ appointments.

“I would go with my grandpa to all of his medical appointments and translate to the best of an 11-year-old’s ability. And that’s when I kind of fell in love with the whole hospital atmosphere.”

The curious 11-year-old would ask the nurses about school, where they went, and how they did it. The nurses encouraged her to volunteer as a hospital interpreter, but Torres wanted to be more involved in the medical aspect of the patient’s experience.

Now questioning her dream after failing a required course, Torres didn’t know where to turn. She decided to talk to her nursing advisor, who then introduced her to Mary Ann Hindman Grobstich, department chair and assistant professor of health care administration.

“She [her advisor] was like, ‘I know that there’s something else for you, and just because you’re not going to be a nurse doesn’t mean you’re going to be a failure.’ She was like, ‘You’re a good student; you’re a great person; you’re going to make it.’”

Torres then switched her major to health care navigation and credits Hindman Grobstich as one of the reasons she decided to stay at Mount Mercy.

“I feel like she’s really helped me gain my confidence again after losing it while I was in nursing school,” she said.

As a health care navigation major, Torres had to complete an internship. By chance, she came across an internship with the Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids.

She worked with the resource navigator and the refugee resettlement program, reviewing incoming refugee family’s cases and then visiting the families for a health screening/health check-up. Then Torres would go over any concerns they had or past issues and would schedule appointments for them to meet with local health care providers.

“I would, after their appointments, make sure they understood what was said at their appointments and just really clarify any information they didn’t understand.”

She ended up falling in love with her job because of the skills she was able to develop.

“And it was just a great experience. I was actually navigating people and helping them navigate and dealing with what I went to school for,” she said.

Torres graduated this May and has big plans for the future.

“One of my goals is to build a health care navigation agency where we can have different navigators with different roles, not just navigating people but also educating. Especially the minority communities, because I feel like they often don’t have the same opportunities as some people.”

Torres doesn’t believe that her major change was a coincidence either.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason because if I would have initially come to Mount Mercy for that, they wouldn’t have had that option for me.”