uci school of nursing mepn alum and uci health nurse imelda pastran

UCI Health nurse and MEPN alum Imelda Pastrana, RN, and her father.

Imelda Pastrana always knew she wanted to work in healthcare.

Her fascination started when she was a curious child visiting doctors with her mom and little sister, who had a heart condition. Her mom didn’t speak English, so Pastrana translated.

But in a field with so many options, she wasn’t sure which role was right for her. She got her foot in the door by earning her medical assistant certificate and joining UCI Medical Center in 2009.

After three years at the Senior Health Center, Pastrana moved to the H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center (CDDC). The move was fortuitous.

A cancer diagnosis in the family

At the time, she was studying for her bachelor’s degree in health science to become a physician assistant when her world changed: Her dad was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

When he became a patient at the CDDC, Pastrana took special notice of the nurses. In part, it was because she would be her father’s caregiver. But she also saw something special in the role.

“Working there, I saw how the nurse is the coordinated care point of the surgery. They help with triage, and postoperatively, they coach the patient. It sealed the circle of what nurses in the outpatient setting have to do.”

Enrolling in the UCI MEPN program

Confident that she found her place in healthcare, Pastrana shifted gears and enrolled in the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN). The MEPN program is for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in another field who want to move into nursing.

After all, in taking care of her father, she felt like a nurse in an unofficial capacity. The MEPN made it official.

Pastrana has since moved on from the CDDC to the UCI Health Center for Pain Management and Wellness at Gottschalk Medical Plaza, where she assists with epidurals, joint injections and other pain relieving treatments.

Helping her father once more

Her father became a patient there, too, after developing a painful lesion on his rib. After intercostal radiofrequency ablation, he’s now pain-free.

“I didn’t realize how much pain affected someone until my dad was going through it,” she recalls. “His mood changed, he didn’t want to be active. Now he’s back to being the person he always is.”

After his experience, Pastrana truly understands what the pain management team does for their patients. And she appreciates that she gets to see both perspectives in action.

“More and more, I’ve encountered the reward of seeing patients be pain-free after seeing (us) after other doctors were not addressing root of their pain. I just know for sure that nursing is what I’m born to do.”