Pueblo architecture
By Eleanor Hasenbeck

Promoting Health in a Tribal Community

UNM College of Nursing Doctoral Student Kristyn Yepa Manages Isleta Pueblo’s COVID-19 Response

Pursuing a doctorate is hard enough, but doing so during a pandemic while directing a public health agency? Only a few leaders can do this. Kristyn Yepa, MPH, RN, is one.

As director of Public Health Services for the Pueblo of Isleta, Yepa has been leading the response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the tribal community of about 4,000 people. She serves as Isleta’s designated tribal health officer and as a member of the tribe’s COVID mitigation team.

Working with tribal governors and council members, she develops policies to respond to the pandemic. She’s also led efforts to test for, monitor and respond to confirmed cases within the pueblo. Once COVID-19 vaccines became available to the public, she also coordinated the logistics of getting vaccines to tribal members. And all along, she’s analyzed data about cases and vaccination rates to understand how the virus might spread through the community.

Yepa is spending a lot of time analyzing outside of her job, too. As a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) student at The University of New Mexico College of Nursing, Yepa is studying how tribal public health agencies can serve native communities. It’s an approach that includes Indigenous practices that can improve health and wellness, such as tribes’ historic food systems and traditions like running.


Kristyn Yepa
I was looking for a program that could really help build my leadership skills, but also learn more about health care administration
Kristyn Yepa, MPH, RN

“Once I started understanding health care systems within tribal communities, I was looking for a program that could really help build my leadership skills, but also learn more about health care administration,” Yepa said. “I want to be a stronger leader."

Yepa has worked in public health for most of her career, both as a nurse and now within management and administration. The values and principles that guided Yepa in advocating for patients have continued to guide her as she has taken on more administrative roles in public health, so returning to nursing by pursuing her DNP felt like the right path.

With her DNP, Yepa wants to remain in New Mexico and in tribal communities. She hopes to serve as a resource for tribes as they create and strengthen public health infrastructure. She also wants to return to higher education, but this time as a faculty member.

Yepa also wants to increase Indigenous representation at UNM to be able to give students the resources and lived experience of working within tribal communities. And she hopes to empower other native students in finding their way through college while embracing their heritage, so they can eventually return to their communities.

Categories: College of Nursing, Community Engagement, Diversity, Health, Top Stories