KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Yolanda Rodriguez is a clinical psychologist licensed to work in Tennessee, and this year is a nominee for the Latino Leader Award for Centro Hispano's 2021 Latino Awards.
"I'm very interested in numbers and science and statistics, but I also love working with people and my heart has really been working with the Latino community. So psychology was a good field that married those two," she said.
Rodriguez started her professional career at Cherokee Health Systems, working both in Knoxville and in Morristown where there is a large Latino population.
"When I was working for Cherokee I was the only Latino psychologist in all their East Tennessee clinics," said Rodriguez.
She's now working for Knoxville VA Medical Center.
"It gives me more room to work on the deep-seated stuff, right? So like the trauma, depression, anxiety. But they do channel older Latino patients my way and that makes my heart happy," she said.
Rodriguez is working to make mental health care more accessible to not just the Latino community, but all those who need it.
She started by setting up refugee clinics in the Rio Grande area of Texas.
"I've been working with like, I guess the patient population that nobody wants to see," said Rodriguez. "So people that are homeless, people that are under active addiction, people that are undocumented, people that have no insurance, no services that need disability, but don't have it. And so that's why I'm here to, you know, fill those gaps."
She's filling those gaps first as a first-generation college student.
"My great-grandma didn't know how to read or write," she said. "My grandmother finished second grade. My mama finished middle school. And I have a doctoral degree."
But also as a new mom and a Latino woman in a field where she hopes to someday see more people like her.
"I've aimed to create that path for somebody else so the person that comes next to me has a path to walk versus having to create their own."