BOYLE HEIGHTS (CBSLA) — A teen mom who overcame incredible odds has become a role model for her community — paving the way for the next generation of registered nurses at a Boyle Heights hospital.

At 18, Tanya Piazza became a single mother. Now, she’s in charge of the nurse residency program at White Memorial Medical Center. (Credit: Tanya Piazza)

“You have good days, you have bad days,” Tanya Piazza, a nurse at White Memorial Medical Center, said. “But, we never have a wasted day.”

That motto is one of the first lessons Piazza teaches each incoming class of nursing residents. She not only trains new nurses in patient care, she uses her own challenging path to help them navigate the journey.

“I struggled a lot,” Piazza said.

At 18, Piazza became a single mom desperate to provide for her newborn daughter. Living in California’s Central Valley, Piazza went to work in the tomato fields. When the tomato fields dried up, she went to work harvesting pistachios.

When she lost her job as the pistachio fields dried up, she started working two jobs as a waitress and got her medical assistant degree and starting nursing school.

“It’s really hard to work and go to nursing school,” she said.

Against all odds, Piazza graduated and became a registered nurse and began working in Boyle Heights.

“It’s literally a blessing in disguise, because I feel that it has provided me a fire to really help our community,” she said of her difficult path to becoming a nurse.

Piazza also said her Latina heritage has helped her really connect with her patients.

“Whatever your culture is, there’s things that you remember from your grandparents — just little remedies that you do,” she said. “If I know that I am treating our fellow Latino community, I’m gonna ask them not just what medication they’re taking, but what herbs they are taking, whose house did they go to to get the two pills of antibiotics because really they need a whole prescription.”

Piazza is now in charge of the nurse residency program at White Memorial — training, mentoring and conveying wisdom to the next generation.

“What’s important as a nurse is to make sure that the voice of your patient is heard,” she said. “They’re entering a respected profession, and we need to keep that sacred because trust in the community is so important.”

During the past 15 years, Piazza has cared for thousands of patients and trained hundreds of nurses, but her proudest achievement is her 21-year-old daughter who will soon start nursing school.

“I’m most proud of my daughter,” she said. “To be able to see your little human go and help somebody else, just … wow.”

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