LL nurse named best in state


Coming from a small, poor community in Silver City, Advanced Practice Nurse Yolanda Morales understands the economic struggle and minimal health care available in rural areas.

It is what drives the Los Lunas resident in her profession, as well as people who suffer severe and persistent mental illness.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Yolanda Morales, of Los Lunas, won the Excellence in Advanced Practice award from the New Mexico Nursing Excellence awards program.

Her innate ability to put people who are in crisis at ease, and her commitment to serving the poorest segment of the population won her the Excellence in Advanced Practice award at the 2013 New Mexico Nursing Excellence awards at the Hyatt Tamaya Resort.

She was one of 22 nurses out of 170 nominations that won this year’s Nursing Excellence awards.

“I was actually very surprised because the other people who were nominated are excellent candidates and worthy of being chosen,” Morales said. “So, I was very surprised. I was really honored and humbled by it.”

The bilingual psychiatric nurse has been in mental health since 1985. After many years as a therapist, she decided to pursue a nursing degree because she wanted to offer more holistic care to her patients.

She earned her PhD in nursing research from the University of New Mexico and holds a master of science degree in nursing with a focus on psychiatric-mental health nursing, and a bachelor of science degree in nursing from UNM. In all, she has three bachelor degrees, three master degrees, as well as a PhD she received in 2012.

Always looking to improve and expand the services she can provide, Morales is going back to school in January to get a post-doctoral certificate. The psychiatric nurse practitioner certification will enable her to treat children.

“I was always interested in nursing. I had been a therapist for a long time — worked in community mental health in Silver City, climbing my way up,” she said. “I worked in the department of corrections (in Los Lunas) for several years, 10 or 11 years, and then I decided I was going to go into nursing. It was the best move I ever made. I love being a nurse.”

Morales is an advanced practice nurse provider for the Psychiatric Urgent Care Clinic at UNM hospitals, and also works one day a week at Valle del Sol, formerly Valencia Counseling Services, in Los Lunas.

There are patients at Valle del Sol that have been coming to the clinic for 15 or 16 years, Morales said.

“What I like about Valle del Sol is I feel I am able to give back to my community where I live,” she said. “We’re able to provide a service I think that is really needed.”

As an advanced practice psychiatric nurse, she makes psychiatric evaluations, assessments, diagnosis, psycho-therapy, medication prescription, medication management, just about everything a psychiatrist does except admitting patients.

“One of the things I love about nursing is we approach people with caring and empathy in a non-judgmental way,” she said, “We help to support them during their recovery, but the biggest thing is we work in partnership with the patient.”

“She bonds with her clients in a manner that provides them with a sense of safety and trust at a time when many of them feel fearful and desperate,” said Gloria Dixon in nominating Morales for the award.

Seeing her patients get better is her greatest reward.

“I see people at their worst, and then I see them when they get better and are able to do whatever it is they want to do with their lives, and to be happy,” Morales said. “So for me, I get a lot of awards just in my patients when I see them get better … I’m glad to be a part of it, be a team member with the patient and work together to achieve recovery.”

She attributes her work ethic to her late parents, Pedro and Avelina Morales, who taught her to give her whole heart to her work.

-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.