Wilma Toledo

Decades of Care Giving and Teaching

WilmaToledo Wilma Toledo, Jemez Pueblo, became a PA in the early years of the profession. From 1977 until 2000, she worked full time at Albuquerque Indian Hospital. Since her formal retirement, she has been working both as a contract PA in Albuquerque Indian Hospital’s diabetes program and as a volunteer faculty member at the PA Program at the University of New Mexico.

For much of her career Toledo has taken care of people with diabetes. Currently she is working with diabetic patients who are having trouble with their feet. For many years she was on a team of five people, including two doctors, a nurse educator and a nutritionist. She and the physicians had their own panel of patients. If one of their patients needed special care, group members referred the patient to the appropriate member of the team, for example, the nutritionist. If any of her patients were headed toward end stage renal disease, Toledo referred them to one of the physicians.

Toledo did and still does a lot of patient education. “If people with diabetes don’t take good care of their feet, they might have to have their feet amputated. I do a lot of foot care and teach patients about foot care. Diet is important in helping diabetics get better control of their sugar levels. We emphasized exercise, which has been part of traditional Native American life. We also recommended going back to the traditional diet with less fat and less sugar.”

Toledo enjoys teaching in the innovative PA Program at the University of New Mexico. The class is divided into small group tutorials in which students learn medicine in the context of real patient problems. Toledo facilitates one of the problem-based tutorials on renal function. She is also collecting information on Native American traditional oral health in conjunction with her work with other faculty members in developing an Internet-based oral geriatric health program.

A Family of Educators

The opportunity for upward mobility drew Toledo into the PA profession. She was a medical technologist at Albuquerque Indian Hospital when she learned about the Indian Health Service programs for training PAs at Phoenix and Gallup Indian Medical Centers. (These programs existed between 1971 and 1977.) Toledo had a bachelor's degree in biology and an extra year in the medical technology program at the University of New Mexico, so she didn’t have to take all of the didactic courses. She did her clinical rotations at Albuquerque Indian Hospital. Upon graduation, she became a full time PA at the hospital.

Toledo's father, Jose Rey Toledo, was a great inspiration for her. He was a well-known Southwest artist who at age 50 earned his master’s of public health degree (MPH) at the University of California at Berkeley. When Toledo became a medical technologist at Albuquerque Indian Hospital, her father was a health educator there.

Good Career Choice

Toledo recommends the PA profession as a good health care career choice. She says, “Physician assistants are continuously needed in the Native community.”
This article was originally printed in the Winter 2007 issue of Winds of Change.