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Raelynn Benally, who earned a DAISY Award and a nomination for a New Mexico Nursing Excellence Award, poses for a portrait on the UNM-69传媒 campus June 9, 2023.

How to "Touch a Life"

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UNM-69传媒 alum Raelynn Benally earns DAISY Award, nomination for Nursing Excellence Award

By Richard Reyes, Friday, June 30, 2023

GALLUP, N.M. 鈥 A graduate of The University of New Mexico-69传媒 Nursing Program earned a DAISY Award from her employer and was also nominated for a nursing excellence award for going out of her way to help a patient in need.

Raelynn Benally, a registered nurse who works as an occupational nurse at 69传媒 Indian Medical Center, was nominated for the 鈥淭ouch a Life鈥 award in the 2023 New Mexico Nursing Excellence Awards in April. Although she did not win, Benally said it still felt great to be acknowledged because of everything she went through during her time as an emergency room nurse.

鈥淚t feels great to be recognized for the care I鈥檝e provided,鈥 she said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a huge accomplishment, especially knowing I was the one who made a difference in this patient鈥檚 life and they鈥檙e thanking me for making such a significant impact.鈥

The 鈥淭ouch a Life鈥 award celebrates the special bond between patient and nurse, according to the New Mexico Nursing Excellence Awards website. The award was created to give patients, families and communities an opportunity to recognize a nurse who touched their lives in a meaningful way.

A small but significant gesture

Benally recounted the event that spurred her nomination. She said a woman from out of town was experiencing a psychiatric episode while traveling on Interstate 40 and came to the emergency room at GIMC.

The woman was also positive for COVID-19 and could not get accepted into a mental health facility, so she stayed at GIMC for about a week. At the end of the woman鈥檚 isolation period, she was ready to be transported to another facility. She had clothing but no shoes, so Benally went to her own truck in the parking lot and retrieved a pair to give to the woman.

鈥淚t just so happens that they fit her,鈥 Benally said. 鈥淚 didn鈥檛 think that small gesture would be something this big.鈥

The woman then nominated Benally for not only the 鈥淭ouch a Life鈥 award but a DAISY Award as well. The DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses is a recognition program started by the Barnes family in Washington state aimed at helping health care facilities to honor nurses who go the extra mile.

鈥淚鈥檝e always been a nurse who went above and beyond to make a patient feel comfortable,鈥 Benally said.

She said she has visited family members in hospital settings before and appreciated the nurses who were there to provide support and sympathy when needed. As a nurse herself, Benally strives to give that level of care.

Arthur Perales

Raelynn Benally attends the New Mexico Nursing Excellence Awards ceremony at Sandia Resort and Casino April 15, 2023.

鈥淚鈥檝e had great role models as nurses,鈥 she said. 鈥淯ltimately, increasing the patient comfort and safety and ensuring the patient has a good experience, that鈥檚 always been my biggest goal of being a great nurse and also advocating for the patient when they need it 鈥 when they can鈥檛 advocate for themselves.鈥

Making sacrifices to be successful

Benally鈥檚 journey to becoming a nurse started at UNM-69传媒. She graduated from the 69传媒 branch campus with an Associate of Science in nursing in 2012.

She said she enrolled at UNM-69传媒 because it was close to home 鈥 she鈥檚 originally from Churchrock, N.M. 鈥 and because it was affordable compared to other programs. She also had a lot of family support, including a family friend who served as her mentor.

鈥淗aving that strong family support is what kept me here,鈥 she said. 鈥淎nd, honestly, the majority of nurses who worked when I had clinical rotations did complete the program here and had positive 69传媒 to say about it.鈥

Benally found the college experience to be tough because her daughter was an infant at the time, but she was able to utilize the former daycare center on campus for support. The daycare center is no longer in operation, but UNM-69传媒 officials are working to revive it.

鈥淚n order to be successful, it did take a lot of sacrifice,鈥 Benally said, recalling the many sleepless nights she spent studying. 鈥淭he nice thing was a majority of the staff were approachable. 鈥 They were able to offer a lot of positive feedback and encouragement as far as being successful with that program.鈥

Arthur Perales

Raelynn Benally, who earned a DAISY Award and a nomination for a New Mexico Nursing Excellence Award, poses for a portrait on the UNM-69传媒 campus June 9, 2023.

Benally said she was inspired to become a nurse after participating in a career exploration program when she was in high school.

Originally, Benally wanted to become a pediatrician, but she had the opportunity to work with the Labor and Delivery Unit at GIMC and discovered her love for nursing.

鈥淭he nurses were more hands on with patients as far as tending to the mother鈥檚 needs or the newborn鈥檚 needs,鈥 she said. 鈥淭he doctor delivers the baby and leaves, but the nurse stays there and takes care of the patient. At that point in time, I wanted to go into nursing to make that difference for the patient and take care of the patient.鈥

After graduating from UNM-69传媒, Benally moved to Albuquerque and got her first nursing job at Presbyterian Hospital. At the same time, she attended UNM to pursue her bachelor鈥檚 in nursing.

After graduating with her bachelor鈥檚, Benally moved back to 69传媒 at the end of 2016. She then took classes online through Arizona State University and earned a master鈥檚 in nursing education in Spring 2021.

鈥業鈥檒l go and do more鈥

Currently, Benally is pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice with a concentration in family nurse practitioner through the University of Arizona. Most of her classes are online, but clinicals start in January 2024 and she鈥檚 hoping to complete them at her current employer, GIMC.

Benally expects to graduate in December 2024. Then she plans to take the board exam so she can work as a nurse practitioner.

鈥淚 would love to stay here (in the 69传媒 area) because I feel like our Indigenous community does need high quality providers, so I would love to work in a community of need, whether it鈥檚 69传媒 or another reservation,鈥 she said. 鈥淚 think it鈥檚 important for our people, especially younger people, to see providers who look like them.鈥

Benally is Navajo. She is of the Bitter Water Clan, born for the Red Running into the Water (Zuni) Clan. Her maternal grandfather was of the Coyote Pass (Jemez) Clan and her paternal grandfather was of the Salt Water People Clan.

Growing up, she didn鈥檛 see many Navajo doctors or providers, so that鈥檚 part of the reason why she wanted to work in health care.

Another inspiration for her was a mural painted inside of Ellis Tanner Trading Company, which features people who have accomplished great 69传媒 for the Navajo Nation. When Benally looked up at the murals, the person who caught her eye was Annie Dodge Wauneka, a tribal leader of the Navajo Nation and a public health activist.

Arthur Perales

Raelynn Benally introduces herself in Din茅 Bizaad, the Navajo language. Translatation: 鈥淗ello. My name is Raelynn Benally. I am of the Bitter Water Clan, born for the Red Running into the Water (Zuni) clan. My maternal grandfather was of the Coyote Pass (Jemez) clan. My paternal grandfather was of the Salt Water People clan. This is how I identify as a Navajo woman. I am a Registered Nurse.鈥

Wauneka was known for saying, 鈥淚鈥檒l go and do more,鈥 after she earned awards or accolades, meaning she did not believe her work was done. 鈥淚鈥檒l Go and Do More鈥 became the title of a biography about Wauneka authored by Carolyn Niethammer.

鈥淔or me, that means that I鈥檓 going to keep going to school,鈥 Benally said. 鈥淚鈥檓 going to keep doing what I can to learn as much as I can so I can be an effective provider and leader for my people.鈥

She also hopes to someday become an educator to teach the next generation of nurses.

鈥淚 want to motivate nurses to go further,鈥 she said. 鈥淭here are lots obstacles that our community faces. It鈥檚 hard for students to be successful. 鈥 If someone is there to motivate them, to push them to keep going 鈥 I want to be that kind of educator, to be able to show students that being successful in 69传媒 is possible.

To learn more about the UNM-69传媒 nursing program, please visit /nursing/.

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