It’s only been three years since her SFA graduation, but registered nurse Nancy Palacios ’14 has already attained quite an impressive résumé.

She serves as chair of the Unit Based Council for the Neurology, Internal Medicine and Orthopedic Unit, clinical ladder advisor, case coordinator and preceptor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center where she works. She has been recognized multiple times by her peers and has received the Meritorious Service Award and the Problem-solving, Attitude, Compassion and Teamwork Gold Award. She is a DFW Great 100 Nurses Scholarship recipient. Palacios also is working toward her Doctor of Nursing Practice at Baylor University.

Nothing stands in this first-generation college graduate’s way of helping others. The oldest of four children, Palacios said she decided to become a nurse while attending Seagoville High School.

“During high school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a hospital and nursing home. Being there just felt right,” Palacios said. “There is no greater feeling than being there for my patients when they need it most. Whether it’s giving them comfort, holding their hand or just listening to them, serving others is a rewarding experience. Nursing is my calling.”

Palacios transferred to SFA from the University of Texas at Arlington during her junior year. She said she set her sights on obtaining a bachelor’s degree from SFA because of the nursing program’s high passing rates on the National Council Licensure Examination, a nationwide exam for licensing nurses in the United States and Canada.

“Visiting the campus reassured me of my decision to attend,” Palacios said. “The DeWitt School of Nursing had just opened a new facility with state-of-the-art technology. There also was a vibrancy that permeated throughout the campus. I noted a sense of unity and friendliness from students and staff members that was uplifting. I can’t forget to mention the beauty of the pineywoods. I loved the scenery. SFA felt like home.”

After her arrival on campus, Palacios was selected to join Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society.

“Being selected for this prestigious organization was such a big achievement,” Palacios said. “As a new transfer student, it was a great way to acclimate to campus. Being an ODK member also helped develop my leadership skills.”

Palacios credits Dr. Tammy Harris, SFA assistant professor of nursing, with being a mentor to her.

“All of the faculty members in the School of Nursing were exceptional,” Palacios said. “Dr. Harris left a lasting impression on me. She was one of my professors during my first semester and made the transition easier.

“One day before her class, I was in a very scary automobile accident. When I contacted Dr. Harris to inform her I would be absent, she demonstrated genuine concern for my well-being. I wasn’t just a number — she truly cared for me as a student. Later, she wrote letters of recommendation for both my job at UT Southwestern and admittance to my doctoral program. She has been much more than just a professor.”

Palacios’ praise of Harris is reciprocal. “Nancy came to SFA with a goal in mind and never veered from it. I have had the pleasure of watching every step Nancy has taken since her SFA graduation,” Harris said. “Her steps have been planned and meticulous, always supporting and improving her chosen profession. I am honored to have maybe played a small part in all of this and look forward with anticipation to what she will accomplish next. Nancy is a driving force for change and excellence in our profession. She is one of those students who reinforced the reason I am involved in nursing education.”

Today, Palacios is one of the more than 1,600 nurses who work at UT Southwestern Medical Center, which recently was ranked the No. 1 hospital in Dallas/Fort Worth and second in Texas by U.S. News & World Report. The publication’s annual Best Hospital list, released in August, showed UT Southwestern ranked nationally in urology, geriatrics, diabetes and endocrinology, neurology and neurosurgery, nephrology, and ear, nose and throat. Palacios is proud to have a part in these accomplishments.

“As a registered nurse, I help care for neurology, orthopedic and internal medicine patients on the medical/surgical floor,” Palacios said. “I also serve as a charge nurse, which means I meet with other medical team members to discuss patient care, assign patients to nurses and complete other staffing functions. I also assist my fellow nurses.”

Palacios also was one of only three nurses in her unit to be selected to cross train as a care coordinator. “In this role, I work closely with physicians, social workers and therapists to plan safe discharge for patients,” Palacios said. “From the moment patients are admitted, we start their discharge planning. For instance, if we know the patient will need home health care after discharge, we give the patient a list of home health companies to choose from. Once they have selected their preference, we work closely with the social workers to send referrals to the facility of choice. By the time the patient is discharged, approval has been received, and everything is set in place to make the patient’s transition from the hospital to their home a smooth one. This is vital for the patient’s continued care, compliance and overall recovery.”

Typically, Palacios said she administers care to neurology patients, which comprise the primary population of patients on her floor. “We see many rare diagnoses in the neurology department,” Palacios said. “And we admit patients from across the nation. The most difficult diagnosis I’ve seen as a nurse has been Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Globally, it affects about one person in every million. CJD destroys brain cells. It resembles Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or Huntington’s disease, but symptoms from CJD evolve within days to weeks rather than years. It is always fatal.”

As the disease progresses, Palacios said, problems with coordination worsen, and vision becomes impaired. Eventually, the patient can no longer move or speak, and he or she will enter a coma.

“Being there for the patients and their families to help them cope through these difficult moments takes courage. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary,” Palacios said.

In addition to her duties as a registered nurse at the medical center, Palacios also volunteers in the community assisting at local food banks, visiting middle and high schools to talk about nursing, and speaking about stroke education to all age groups.

“I volunteer at the North Texas Food Bank where we pack meals for those in need,” Palacios said. “I have met people there who have told me they live off of the food the North Texas Food Bank provides, so I understand how important these food pantries are for them. I recall being at one of the pantry locations on one occasion when the food truck was delayed. During that delay, I took the opportunity to teach those waiting about stroke signs and symptoms. It might save a life and diverted their attention until the food truck arrived.”

Palacios said she is able to understand the hardships many people in need face because she, too, has been through difficult times.

“I came from a very loving and nurturing family,” Palacios said. “My parents are Mexican immigrants, and although they lacked a college degree, they instilled in me a love for learning. What I had growing up didn’t come easy. And what I have now wasn’t given to me on a silver platter. I often helped my mother clean homes and my dad mow lawns while in high school. I did it to help them because I realized how hard those jobs were. It kept me humble, helped me appreciate what I had and helped me appreciate my parents’ hard work. Those experiences made me who I am today and helped me appreciate my education.”

Another way Palacios is able to help others is through her service as an interpreter.

“I am a certified interpreter for the medical center,” Palacios said. “I’m often called upon to help the medical doctors and physical and occupational therapists during assessments and evaluations. Being bilingual allows me to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients, and the rapport I’m able to build with them is truly special. Once they realize someone is able to assist them in this way, their faces light up with confidence because they know they can communicate their needs and be understood.”

Today, Palacios is busier than ever. She and her husband, Andrew, welcomed a daughter, Madison Grace, in July.

“By the time I complete my doctoral degree, my daughter will be 3 years old,” Palacios said. “When she grows up, I don’t know if she’ll remember the long nights I spent studying after work, or if she’ll recall sitting on my lap as I read for school. I do know I want her to be proud of my accomplishments and me. After all, my ceiling will be her floor. I hope that through my and her father’s example, she also will value the power of education and the opportunities it provides.”