Human Resources > ​Faculty and Staff Spotlight

​Faculty and Staff Spotlight

​​​​​Elizabeth Aquino​​​, PhD, RN - Associate Professor in the School of Nursing

Elizabeth (Liz) Florez

"I am happy to be part of educating and mentoring the next generation of nurses."

"It’s my purpose here to make sure that our students have the knowledge and skills that they need to become great nurses."

“I always knew I wanted to do something in healthcare, but I wasn’t quite sure what that was going to be,” Elizabeth explains. During her undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she shadowed physical therapists and worked as a pharmacy technician.

“As a pharmacy tech, I enjoyed helping patients with their prescriptions and questions.” This experience helped Elizabeth decide to go into nursing where she could focus more on direct patient care. She graduated from DePaul’s Master’s in Nursing program, and also earned her PhD in Nursing Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Nursing is unlike any other profession. There are just so many different things you can do. I personally enjoy the one-on-one connection with patients. By providing patients with information about their health, I can empower them.” Elizabeth focused a lot of her attention on patient education. “That’s what I love about nursing. I can provide patients with important information that they can take home. With this knowledge, they are better positioned to maintain their own health and their family’s health. And you see the difference that you can make in a person’s life.”

Could you talk about your involvement in organizations like the American Health Association (AHA) and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN)?

“It is very important for me to work with underserved populations and patients who don’t have health insurance. For some, even if they have insurance, they still may not be able to afford their health care. It’s all about giving these communities accessibility to healthcare providers and resources to help them stay healthy. I have been able to assist with community outreach efforts through my active volunteerism with the AHA and NAHN. I’ve served in several leadership roles for these organizations and others.”

Elizabeth offers her leadership, expertise and guidance to these organizations, and she helps them organize health fairs and health-related outreach events for underserved populations. These events provide medical screenings, education and various health resources to people who may not be visiting the doctor as much as they should.

“I love community engagement. You get to see the differences that you’re making and really feel like you’re engaged in the process. Whether I am helping to create the programs at the national or local level, serving on committees, presenting information to an audience, getting involved in advocacy efforts, participating in health fairs, or doing health screenings, my nursing background can make a big difference. These organizations value nurses. They know that we are connected to the communities that we serve and the patients that we see. We know the challenges that our patients are facing and can help advocate for their needs. Nurses can positively influence healthcare in so many different ways – from bedside care to policy-making decisions.”

If they aren’t going to the doctor as much as they should, where do people in these underserved communities get a lot of their healthcare information?

“Many people get their health information from family or friends that experience a health incident, for example a stroke or heart attack. Hearing these direct stories seems to resonate more with people than reading a pamphlet or even hearing information from their healthcare provider. But those shared stories aren’t always accurate. They can paint a different picture of reality.”

“Take a heart attack patient. It is important to take time to discuss with a heart attack survivor what may have put them at risk. Talking about their symptoms may help provide a clearer picture of their experience. So if we can explain how the heart attack may have happened, discuss their own risk factors, and what to do if they experience similar symptoms in the future, then hopefully when they share their story with family and friends, it will be accurate. It is my hope that sharing accurate and informative survivor stories will help people be more alert to the risk factors, symptoms and seeking treatment early.

During your dissertation research, you found that patients’ perceptions about their health risks often differed from their actual health risks. Could you talk about that?

“People could identify some of the risk factors or some of the symptoms of a heart attack, but when I asked them to talk about their personal factors, it was a whole different idea. They realized that diabetes was a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and yet patients who actually had diabetes wouldn’t make the same connection with their own health. If I asked what might put them at risk, they often wouldn’t identify their own specific factors.”

“Healthcare providers need to make sure patients recognize their risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc. If people really understand how high their risk is, then hopefully they will make healthy lifestyle changes, participate in preventative care like annual wellness checks, be more aware of signs and symptoms, and seek early treatment when those signs and symptoms present. We know that if people don’t seek treatment early, they have worse health outcomes.”

You received your graduate degree at DePaul’s School of Nursing, and now you’re back as a Professor.

“I am happy to be part of educating and mentoring the next generation of nurses. It’s my purpose here to make sure that our students have the knowledge and skills that they need to become great nurses. The School of Nursing is connected to all of the major hospitals in the city and some in the suburbs. I encourage students to explore clinical rotation experiences at both the larger well-known hospitals and also community hospitals. Students gain valuable experiences in both settings, but I also want students to see the differences in the patients and communities in these hospitals. I encourage students to help make a difference in their communities by sharing their knowledge and skills, especially once they become nurses.”

DePaul’s Nursing program has partnerships with community-based organizations throughout the city.

“We connect each student with a community partner,” Elizabeth ​explains. “The students maintain a two-year relationship with the community organization. They help with outreach, develop health education programs, and assist with other initiatives. Community-based service learning helps students gain a greater awareness of the social determinants of health, sensitivity to diversity, increased knowledge of policies and impact, and helps them develop or strengthen leadership skills. It’s my hope that students will continue to engage and work with community organizations even after they graduate from DePaul.

Elizabeth ​​sees a strong connection between nursing and DePaul University.

“Our work goes hand-in-hand with DePaul’s mission and Vincentian principles. We actively demonstrate the mission in everything that we do in nursing. Nurses acknowledge and embrace diversity by providing culturally competent care and respect to all patients. We care for the most vulnerable populations. We have a holistic approach to caring for patients and their families. We collaborate with others to ensure our patients have the best health outcomes. Nurses have the power to make a difference every day in the lives of their patients. To ensure the best evidence-based practices are provided to meet the needs of patients and communities served, Vincentian questions are continuously asked—“What must be done?, What must I do?, What must you do?, What must we do?”