Health Provider Profile: Hector Reyes

Hector Reyes Nurse Practitioner

Tell us about your occupation.

I’m a nurse practitioner. When most people see that title, they see the “nurse” part and don’t understand how “practitioner” fits in. I usually introduce myself by explaining that a nurse practitioner is like a supernurse – we’ve gone through additional training that lets us diagnose and treat patients and even prescribe medication. I work in a busy city clinic with an awesome team.

Why did you choose to go into your particular field of medicine/healthcare?

I was sick a lot growing up, and one nurse practitioner who took care of me for a couple of years made a big impression. He was a quiet guy, really gentle and kind. He made me feel safe. I wanted to make the same kind of difference to patients – especially kids who are scared of needles, like I was. Being a nurse practitioner is hands-on, which I enjoy, and working with kids means I also work with their parents, so I’m always providing education, comfort, advice etc. on two levels.

Where were you born?

I was born in Davenport, Iowa, where my parents ended up after immigrating to the US from El Salvador. My parents worked in restaurants for many years and finally opened their own place when I was a teenager

Where have you been?

I went to college in Eastern Washington at Gonzaga University, and I got my nurse practitioner degree there, too. I got the chance to travel to Costa Rica during that time and work at a rural clinic, and that’s also where I learned to surf. During college I earned money working in the library, and I volunteered with the local Boys and Girls Club. And I’ve been in the kitchen! When I go home, I still help out in my parent’s restaurant.

Medical style you grew up with?

As a kid, my family considered doctors to be authority figures who would fix your problems, people you looked up to and respected. But there was a clear divide between the treatments they handed out and the home remedies my parents knew from their homeland. My mother often treated my headaches with a mixture of egg white and coffee beans–I know it sounds weird–but she didn’t share that with our physician.

Your views on health in your own home?

It all starts with healthy eating! A lot of times patients are looking for a pill or a procedure, or an exercise regime – and sometimes that’s warranted. But I honestly believe that if we could all eat home-cooked meals low on the food chain, we’d all be a lot healthier.

What is the most difficult aspect of your work for you to accept?

It’s hard to accept that when my patients leave the exam room, I have no say in what happens next. I know when a child is going home with parents who are stressed about their immigration status, or a lost job, or a divorce. I understand how these stressors impact health, but there’s nothing I can do except try to make my interaction with that kid be a positive in their life.

What are you most proud of/grateful for about your work?

I’m proud of a program I helped set up at the clinic especially for teen parents. We get them together once a week and talk about infant/toddler health. It’s really something to see these parents – who quite honestly did not plan on being parents at this point – start to develop a sense of confidence in themselves, that yes, they can do this.

What surprises you about your patients?

Everyone has a unique story. Every single patient has surprised me, whether it’s the grandma who goes parachute jumping or the teenage boy who knits, or the guy in camo gear who turns out to be a democratic socialist. In my job, it’s tough to hold onto stereotypes.

What is your go-to home-remedy for a cold?

I actually learned this from a friend whose parents are from Vietnam: Chop up some raw ginger. Pour hot water over it and let it steep 10 minutes. Strain out the ginger, then pour some in a mug and add the juice of half a lemon and a spoonful of honey. Also, my cat always makes me feel better. She always knows when I’m sick and she comes and curls up with me. She’d make a great nurse.

The book that changed your life?

Surfing and Health by Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz. It’s this collection of surfing memoirs written by a Doctor who graduated from Stanford medical school and then gave it all up to go chasing waves all over the world. There’s a lot of life lessons in this book, and for someone like me, who loves to surf, and be an NP, and had to work really hard in school, it definitely gives my life perspective.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Focus on school.” Like most immigrant parents, mine were super focused on my education. And I understood early on that I couldn’t afford to fool around like the richer kids at school, because I would need to earn a scholarship if I wanted to go to college. Fortunately, that happened.

If you could stay home with a cup of coffee three days a week and research any area of health that pertains to your occupation, what would it be and why?

I’m seeing so many kids who are stressed – whether it’s because of situations at home, academic pressure, peer problems. I’d want to research best practices for de-stressing this generation, a group that seems to be facing a lot more pressure than my generation did in the 80s and 90s.

A favorite place to be?

Sitting on the deck my brothers and I built, watching the kids in our family run around.

Is there a piece of music, composer or artist that gives you strength and/or healing?

My dad used to play Flamenco guitar music for me every night at bedtime when I was little. I still love listening to that kind of music. I always try to recommend music to my patients who are stressed. I think it really reduces anxiety and is a natural pain-killer.

What is your greatest strength as a provider?

Listening is the most important skill a health care provider can have, and it’s what I do with every patient.

What does self-health mean to you?

I think self-health is ignored by most people. In my practice I hear people put all sorts of things ahead of taking care of themselves. Self-care means understanding how to self assess. I spend a lot of time with my family, but my job can be pretty tough emotionally, and physically, so to maintain my balance, and utilize other muscles, I grab my surfboard every few weeks, no matter the season, and disappear for a few days. Also, connecting with other people, just having a good conversation with a stranger on the beach, or sharing a joke with the barista I get my coffee from every-day. It’s those daily interactions that make me feel like everything’s going to be ok.

Car, bike, or…?

In an ideal world, I would bike to work every day. But bike commuting would be both difficult and dangerous in my location, so it’s the car or bus for me.

Hector’s References