Cristina Pajara is living proof of two seemingly unrelated truths: The American Dream is alive and well and attainable to those with the drive and passion to pursue it. And that there really are angels on earth. A licensed nurse practitioner, Pajara considers the day she started working with the homeless at a Las Vegas hospital to be the most joyous moment in her life and the day she knew her life’s mission and the hope and care she was destined to give others.
With humble beginnings in the Philippines, Pajara arrived in America in 2004 with a bachelor degree in computer science. After a series of uninspired office jobs, Pajara turned to in-home care-giving. While the position may have lacked prestige, it fed Pajara’s innate talent to care for and comfort others. It also catapulted her desire to pursue nursing aid license so she could work in a hospital setting.
And this is where the American Dream takes off and the Angel gets her wings. While working in a hospital, the petite go-getter whose father wanted her to become a doctor, pursues an accelerated bachelor degree in nursing and lands a job at an ICU at a local hospital. It is here where she encounters the homeless population of Las Vegas and becomes aware of their plight and suffering.
In order to be of service the way she envisioned, Pajara pursued her masters to become a family nurse practitioner, which allows one to see patients as a primary care provider. Pajara then witnesses how the reality of physical and mental illness and instability has on the homeless population. In order to prepare her for this challenge, Pajara earned a second masters degree to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
Pajara is now the director at the non-profit Sparks Family Medicine in Las Vegas, where she and a team of dedicated professionals treat the homeless and low-income patients, regardless of insurance status. More saliently, Sparks does not limit treatment to one and done urgent medical care. Sparks offers seamless wraparound services that includes mental health counseling, life skill training, access to personal hygiene and meals. Pajara also volunteers for local organizations and charities that provide blankets, emergency food and other services to the city’s destitute and hard to reach populations.
But even angels have a glamorous side, and Pajara is no exception. A self-proclaimed fashionista, Pajara was actually “discovered” while at an event and now sits on the board of the Las Vegas Fashion Council. And she still manages to fit daily zumba, hip-hop and dance fitness classes to stay in shape and release her funky, creative side.
Our very busy angel on earth sat down with Gurus for an intimate conversation about what has motivated her to success and how passion for compassion is her driving force.
How did you know being a nurse was your life’s calling?
Nursing is a really hard job, If it’s not coming from within, you’re not going to be able to care for your patient. But when you have joy in your heart, you can give them care with compassion. You love doing because of the joy you have, and that will transcend to those in your care.
Can you elaborate how Sparks works in conjunction with other organizations to give the homeless the attention they need?
We partner with various non-profit organizations. For example, there is a resource center that operates as a hub for the homeless. This center offers lockers, clothing, showers, etc. The ability to shower gives one dignity. So if someone comes in there and needs medical attention, we triage them and transport them for free to our clinic to receive the proper care. If they need care beyond what our clinic can provide, we transport them to another facility that is equipped to take care of their needs, including mental health. We also provide food and have a lab on site, so they do not have to worry about how they will get to a lab for a blood draw. It is all done in one place. This way, we can also quickly detect any disease or ailments the patient may have and give them medication and follow-up care.
“Cristina flew halfway across the world to wear my clothes, how can I ask for more special client”- Michael Cinco
How did you become immersed in the Las Vegas fashion scene?
It was a coincidence, really. I was planning a birthday party held in an atelier where they hold fashion shows. I asked the designer to help us plan a Filipino-American cultural event with a model in our local costume. He then suggested I do it, and I said,” But I do not know how to walk a runway!” He told me he would teach me. So that was my first fashion experience! And then I got some great photos, got introduced to lots of people, and it went from there.
Do you think fashion helps balance your life from all the stresses at work?
If you know how to de-stress, you will find balance in life. I have to take time to relax so it does not compromise the care I give to my patients. A person can find things they love and that make them happy. I love being fashionable, so when I was given a chance, I went for it! I am a very social person, so I just kept going with my passion to dress up. I also love to dance and stay fit, so I work out a lot to fit into the clothes I love to wear. Most important, you have to have a healthy mind and body.
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