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​From left, RIC alumna Laura Guillen and current RIC student Laura Abreu

Since the onset of the pandemic in March, Laura Guillen '19, a B.S.N. grad, and Laura Abreu, a current student entering the nursing program, have been putting their bilingualism to work for COVID-19 patients at Rhode Island Hospital (RIH). For those patients who only speak Spanish, Guillen and Abreu have been more than just translators; they've provided company for patients who might be having a hard time with the fact that they need to stay and cannot receive visitors. 

Abreu is a patient care tech (medical assistant) in the emergency room of RIH; she is one of the first people at the hospital to be in contact with COVID-19 patients. "I usually walk the patient into a certain area where they are not in contact with anybody else. I do their vital signs, blood work, electrocardiograms, and more," she explains.

Guillen says that there aren't many Spanish-speaking caregivers in her unit, and she is typically the only one on her shift, so she tries to support everyone who needs her while working long hours. "I try my best to comfort both the patients and the families that are constantly calling to check on their loved ones," she adds.

The hospital has something called "Interpreter Machine", which allows patients to use a translator program, enabling them to pick almost any language and have a video call with an interpreter. However, "it does not have that human element," Guillen notes. "Patients feel more heard with someone by their side. Being there in person makes it more personal and makes me feel helpful." 

Abreu was born in the Dominican Republic and has been living in the United States for 11 years. She feels that helping others is her calling and the medical field is a good way to do it. "Medicine has always been my passion. I wanted to become a nurse because I love to help people and be in contact with people. When somebody is not feeling well and you make them feel good, for me that is happiness," she says. "I especially like OBGYN (obstetrics and gynecology). When a woman is pregnant and you are with her through her pregnancy and then you get to see the baby, it is just happiness." 

Guillen, also a proud Dominican, recalls that she found her vocation after helping to take care of multiple sick family members. "Being in the hospital with my family made me appreciate what nurses do for their patients. I had always wanted to be in the medical field and nursing was the best fit for me," she recalls. "I feel it is important to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves." 

For Abreu the pandemic has been challenging, but has also taught her to never take things for granted. "Appreciate every moment, every chance you have to meet family and friends," she notes.