Brian Wyaco and Melissa Wyaco outside the College of Nursing building smiling together
By El Gibson

Kindred Students

Mother and Son Simultaneously Pursuing UNM College of Nursing Degrees

The first time Brian Wyaco traveled across The University of New Mexico College of Nursing graduation stage he was still in utero. His mother, Melissa Wyaco, was pregnant when she graduated with her bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) in 1991.

In the spring of 2024, mother and son will once again make their way across the graduation stage together. Brian will be receiving his BSN and Melissa will be receiving her doctor of nursing practice (DNP).


“It’s very touching, and I hope we can inspire others to really look at nursing and other health care professions, and that they can do it regardless of the struggles,” Melissa said. “Because it’s great to be a nurse. Sometimes it can be good and bad, but overall, it’s wonderful.

The Wyacos are from Zuni Pueblo. Before pursuing his nursing degree, Brian worked at the Zuni Indian Health Service hospital as a health technician during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He worked with several temporary and contract nurses, most of whom were not from the area.

It’s very touching, and I hope we can inspire others to really look at nursing and other health care professions, and that they can do it regardless of the struggles. Because it’s great to be a nurse. Sometimes it can be good and bad, but overall, it’s wonderful
Brian Wyaco, BSN, MHA

“There was a lack of Native American nursing employees, so that made me want to go back to school and get my nursing degree,” Brian said. “It’s essential because if you (as a nurse) know someone from the community, the patient can let their guard down and provide more information of what’s going on with their health.”

When Brian was first interested in pursuing a nursing degree, Melissa warned him that while rewarding, a career in nursing is a demanding one.

“When I first became a nurse, it was very challenging, and I had to work a lot of overtime,” she said. “It takes a really compassionate individual to become a nurse, and it has to come from your heart.”

Many extended members of the Wyaco family work in health care – from nurses to environmental service technicians to medical laboratory technologists.

“I supported whatever my children wanted to do, but I’m glad that Brian decided to follow our family footsteps in pursuing a health career,” Melissa said.

Melissa’s other son also works in health care as a program analyst for the Indian Health Service.

“As a mom, you want the best for your kids, and I think both of them have done a tremendous job and I’m so proud of them,” Melissa said. “I know both of them will continue to do what they’re doing, looking after not only the community they’re from, but also those from surrounding areas.”

Because Melissa and Brian are in different degree programs, they don’t study or do homework together. However, Brian will still occasionally ask his mom for scholarly advice.

“I do ask for (American Psychological Association) APA references sometimes, especially for each paper I write,” Brian said with a laugh.

“I do coach him sometimes, but he also has to learn on his own, too,” Melissa added.

Brian said his collegiate experience has been a positive one, and he’s glad he decided to return to UNM after receiving a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.

“It’s a lot of work and a lot of studying,” he said. “But people here are very helpful, especially the professors. They will help you, even if it’s not during their office hours.”

“All of my degrees are from here,” added Melissa, referencing her associate degree in nursing from UNM-Gallup, her BSN from the College of Nursing, her master of health care administration from the School of Public Administration, and now her DNP from the College of Nursing. “It’s been a good experience coming to The University of New Mexico.”

After graduation, Brian said he has plans to move back to Zuni so he can be closer to his family and provide health care services for his community.

“What I want to do is go back and serve my community and encourage other Native American students that want to go into the health field to pursue their degree of becoming a doctor, nurse, lab technician or whatever they want to be,” Brian said. “But the number one thing is that my family is there, my whole extended family, and I want to help them as well.”

Melissa echoed her son’s desires to encourage other Native Americans to pursue health care careers.

“We still need a lot more, because there is such a huge shortage,” Melissa said. “Influencing younger people to pursue health sciences careers is going to be a key to increasing our professional services, especially being in a rural area like the reservation.”

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