D’Ayn DeGroat of Farmington, New Mexico, is thankful for her career as a nurse. “I just love it,” she said. “It means so much to me and I just can’t believe I get to do it every day.”
D’Ayn grew up in Crownpoint, New Mexico, a rural Navajo community, with three older brothers and a younger sister. Her parents, she said, were a strong influence. Her father designed the flag of the Navajo nation, and D’Ayn has many fond memories of his active involvement in the Navajo community. Her mother was also a strong role model. “She was my rock,” D’Ayn said. “She always said I could do anything I wanted if I put my mind to it.”
Unfortunately, D’Ayn faced some challenges on her path to earning a nursing degree. Life took a tragic turn when she was 14 years old. Her family was involved in a car accident that took the life of her 12-year-old sister. “Before the accident, she was just my little sister, and we would pick on each other like sisters do,” D’Ayn said. “But afterward, I learned from so many people what kind of person she really was. She was so caring and so giving, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do in life — to care for people.”
After graduating from high school, D’Ayn went to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, to pursue a degree in elementary education. That same year, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, prompting D’Ayn to transfer to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to be closer to her family. Her father retired to care for his wife, and unfortunately, college became unaffordable. “It was just too much, so I came home to work and provide an extra income for the family and also help care for my mom,” D’Ayn explained.
While she was working, D’Ayn decided to pursue a degree as a nursing assistant at Navajo Technical University. “At the same time I received my certificate, they opened a Registered Nurse program, so I applied to that,” she said. “I got in, worked really hard and finally graduated last year.”
D’Ayn is now working at the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington. The center is located on the border of a reservation and serves many Native patients. D’Ayn says her experience caring for her mother, a breast cancer survivor, helps her better understand what her patients and their families are going through. She also has a special connection with the many Navajo patients she serves. “I can talk to my patients in Navajo, and that’s something they really appreciate,” she said.
D’Ayn says the Diverse Scholars Program has been a tremendous support throughout her career path. “Without the financial support, I’d probably still be struggling to find money to finish nursing school,” she said. “And the United Health Foundation forums have allowed me to connect with so many amazing young people from across the country. They all want to make a difference, just like I do, and it’s so exciting to collaborate with each other and share ideas for how we can improve our communities.” D’Ayn was awarded scholarships in 2011, 2012 and 2013 to support her studies through a partnership between United Health Foundation and the American Indian College Fund.
Learn more about the Diverse Scholars Initiative.