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As president of the nation’s largest union of registered nurses, Zenei Triunfo-Cortez is the voice for more than 175,000 members

Zenei Triunfo-Cortez head shotAccording to Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, president of National Nurses United, more than half of the roughly 500 nurses documented to have died in service of the COVID pandemic here in the U.S. were Filipino American. Cortez, a practicing bedside nurse since 1980 from a family of nurses and the organization’s first Filipina president, knows the sacrifices Filipinos in the nursing profession have made. She traces their trajectory in the U.S. to nursing shortages back in the 1950’s that led to an influx of Filipino immigration. Yet for all their service, Cortez voices a feeling familiar to many minorities: “I have to prove myself to be worthy in this country and worthy to be in the nursing profession.”

Speaking with Regis College Assistant Professor Lawana Brown, Cortez shared that “As Filipinos, we treat our patients like they’re part of our family. We go over and beyond the call of duty.” Despite being short-staffed, “We somehow feel morally obligated to stay and take care of the patients even though we know the longer we stay, the longer we expose ourselves to COVID patients [and] the higher risks we take, but because we think of them as our family, it is our moral compass that we stay and take care of our patients.”

In their candid conversation, Cortez has a special message to nursing students: “Be assertive.”