Challenge has never been a stranger to Cristina Bass. Growing up an immigrant and DACA recipient didn’t stop her from pursuing dreams of helping her community, rather, they fueled her drive to ensure it happened. As the registered nurse and former recipient of the Felicia Brewer Opportunity Scholarship now finds herself working in healthcare during a time of real crisis, she reflects back on the opportunity she worked hard for, and the role she now plays in the current pandemic.

"Honestly, being a healthcare professional in this time is terrifying,” said Bass. “We (nurses) thought that a pandemic might happen someday but expected that we’d be better prepared to manage it. For example, we didn’t foresee this shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) nationally that is needed to prevent the spread of the virus and keep us and our patients safe.”

Rivera COVID

Bass says it’s her responsibility to continue showing up for her patients and ensuring their wellbeing, and as a dedicated nurse, that’s something she wants to do, but like many nurses, doctors, and healthcare workers, she is conflicted with thoughts of her own family’s health. Her unit in Wisconsin hasn’t seen any COVID-19 positive patients at the time this story was written, but she is prepared for it, nevertheless. She turned her webcam to show a makeshift setup with a desk, bed, and chair, “As you can see, I have everything I would need in here, in case I need to quarantine myself separately from my husband. Right now, we’re in this limbo. Taking it day by day, and committed to our patients,” she remarked.

Bass and her family faced many challenges coming to the United States from El Salvador. When she was a senior in high school, her parents worked hard to provide for her family; her mother worked as a nanny earning $300 a week, and her father worked odd jobs; but it was hard to save enough money to send their daughter to college. At a time when DACA was not yet created, Bass didn’t qualify for financial aid or many types of scholarships even though she was an excellent student, so she applied to the Felicia Brewer Opportunity Scholarship at the Foundation in 2010, and says it changed her life.

“At the time, I couldn’t go to a state school because I wouldn’t receive any financial aid, so it was better to go to a private school. Meredith College was my top choice, but I still wouldn’t have been able to afford it with only the Merit Scholarship they awarded me,” said Bass. “I simply would not have gone to college if I didn’t get the Brewer Scholarship.”

As a child, Bass had imagined becoming a marine biologist and studying the sharks in Australia, but a different path called her name as she arrived at college. “I remember when I was younger, my family went to a healthcare clinic in Carrboro because that was the only place that allowed us to pay on a sliding scale. It was always intimidating for my parents to approach the healthcare system because of the language barrier, among other things,” said Bass. “So, when I got to college and thought about the impact and difference I wanted to make, I knew becoming a nurse was how I wanted to advocate for people who, like my parents, faced barriers to accessing care.”

The Felicia Brewer Opportunity Scholarship was created by Don Brewer, with the idea that immigrant or first-generation students like Bass would be able to pursue life-transforming opportunities and reach their dreams though education. “Cristina was poised for great success in college and beyond in medicine. However, lack of financial resources meant it was doubtful she could attend college at all. I am very proud that the scholarship award both enabled Cristina’s future hopes and continues to honor my late daughter-in-law, Felicia,” said Brewer.

The scholarship did indeed allow Bass to ultimately get her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Duke University, but years later, Bass wanted to do more for her patients by pursuing her master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner. “There are so many underserved populations in the hospital. These people don’t get the primary care they need, and their conditions worsen when not treated initially,” said Bass. “These conditions unnoticed eventually need acute care later which costs more for the patient, and the system. There is a big need to intervene and help these populations in the primary care setting.”

An immigrant at the age of eleven from El Salvador, Bass never imagined that she would pursue a master’s degree in nursing (she is currently attending Concordia University in Wisconsin). She certainly never thought that she would be working to finish this degree while helping her community through a global crisis. This one scholarship was able to change the trajectory of her life and in turn, changes the trajectory of her patient’s lives each and every day.

“I am so thankful that I had this opportunity. My life would look totally different if I didn’t receive this scholarship,” said Bass. “I hope my story gives hope to students like me.”

Bass is also a former recipient of The Tomorrow Fund at the Foundation.