Inclusion Equals Innovation: How Our Diverse Workforce Offers Better Care

Inclusion Equals Innovation: How Our Diverse Workforce Offers Better Care

The VA knows that inclusion equals innovation. By ensuring that every Veteran receives care that matters to them and their whole health, VA providers and staff get to know each Veteran personally to provide better care tailored to the patient’s health and wellness goals.

All Veterans are different, and health care is not one-size-fits-all. However, diversity in VA personnel helps bridge the gap in health care disparities, an attitude adopted at the very top of their organization.

And the more diverse the VA workforce, the more tremendous success they’ll shareAnd the more diverse the VA workforce, the more tremendous success they’ll share

“To ensure a welcoming environment for Veterans, we must foster fair and inclusive VA workplaces where the experiences and perspectives of our diverse employees are valued,” says VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “The success of our mission depends on everyone being able to contribute their expertise, experience, talents, ideas, and perspectives.”

Investing in Inclusion

The Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA) plays a significant role in developing VA’s diverse workforce.

Healthcare professionals just starting in their careers can take advantage of health professions training and scholarship programs designed to increase job opportunities at VA for racial and ethnic minorities, improving healthcare experiences and outcomes for these groups.

OAA manages affiliations with more than 1,800 unique colleges and universities, including nearly 200 minority-serving institutions (MSIs). Approximately 20,000 health professions trainees from MSIs come to VA each year.

Additionally, the Veterans Healing Veterans Medical Access & Scholarship Program provides full scholarships to 12 Veteran medical students at Teague-Cranston Act and Historically Black Colleges and Universities in exchange for a four-year service obligation at VA.

Inclusion Leads to Innovation

The VA’s academic affiliations put them in a unique position to mentor and fund researchers from disadvantaged backgrounds who are motivated to make a difference in their communities, broadening career opportunities for those seeking to join the VA’s team.

Additionally, the VA recognizes that scientists and trainees from diverse backgrounds and life experiences bring different perspectives, creativity, and individual enterprise to address complex health-related problems. So the VA has developed funding opportunities in mentored research for junior VA investigators from underrepresented backgrounds. These research supplements pair early-career investigators with established VA researchers.

The supplements, supported by the VA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), have led to research into virtual reality technology to help Veterans with mild cognitive impairment and repurposing existing drugs to treat substance use disorder, among others.

The Road Ahead

Supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion among the VA staff is an ongoing effort and a challenge that will continue in the future. As the VA celebrates its successes, they look ahead to further efforts that support and recruit a diverse workforce.

By integrating best practices into all the VA does to expand access to world-class healthcare services and to improve policies and procedures to reflect the diversity of those they serve, the VA continues to strengthen its efforts toward a safe and respectful workplace and healthcare environment.

Serving the most diverse group of Veterans in history, the VA reaffirms its commitment to hiring staff that reflects that diversity, ensuring that VA employees feel supported and providing equitable healthcare access for all.

Three Trailblazing Hawaiian Nurses: Part 2 – First Hawaiian Registered Nurse

Three Trailblazing Hawaiian Nurses: Part 2 – First Hawaiian Registered Nurse

Welcome to part two of Three Trailblazing Hawaiian Nurses blog series – Mabel Leilani Smyth, First Hawaiian Registered Nurse with Hawaiian ancestry, often referred to as “Hawaiʻi’s Florence Nightingale.”

Hawai’i’ is one of the most multicultural and ethnically diverse places on Earth. This rich blend is reflective of its nursing history. Pioneer Registered Nurses in Hawaii include nurses of Native Hawaiian, English, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino heritage. Their lives and work create a beautiful kaleidoscope of service that has improved the lives of residents in this tropical paradise for over 100 years. The life stories of three groundbreaking Hawaiian RNs can inspire us all.

Mabel Leilani Smyth 1892 – 1936 First Hawaiian Registered Nurse with Hawaiian Ancestry “Hawaiʻi’s Florence Nightingale

Mabel Leilani Smyth was born in Honolulu on September 1. 1892, to Julia Goo and Halford Hamill Smyth. Like many Hawai’ians, she had an ethnically mixed lineage. Smyth’s ancestors included people from Hawai’i, England, China, and Ireland. Smyth’s older sister Eva was born visually impaired, and from a young age, Mabel was Eva’s companion and guide while her mother tended to the three younger children and her father was at sea. Caring for her sister foreshadowed a lifetime of caring for others.

Smyth spent her childhood on her mother’s Kona coffee farm in Hawaii. All the Smyth children worked hard picking and cleaning coffee beans and cultivating and pounding taro root to make poi, a national dish of Hawai’i. Julia Smyth earned additional money weaving and selling lauhala hats. The family was trilingual, speaking Hawaiian, English, and Pidgin in the home. Being fluent in three languages helped her cross racial and ethnic boundaries and gain acceptance in multiple communities. After Smyth’s father died around 1907, the family moved to the Palama neighborhood, a suburb of Honolulu on the island of Oahu. In 1910, Smyth graduated from President William McKinley High School and began working as a nanny for the Rath family.

Mabel Smyth Begins Career as a Nurse 

James and Ragna Rath, Caucasian social workers, moved from Massachusetts to Hawaii in 1905 for James to direct the Palama Settlement, a multifaceted community service agency. In 1900 at least five cases of bubonic plague were reported in the Chinatown section of Honolulu. To eradicate the threat, city officials decided to burn the homes of the plague victims. Unfortunately, the fire burned out of control, destroying at least four blocks of Chinatown. As a result, thousands of recent impoverished immigrants were homeless, and many lost their jobs and businesses. The Central Union Church created the Palama Settlement (PS) in response to these dire conditions. Church officials founded and supported many programs, including visiting nurses, a pure milk station, a day camp for children with tuberculosis, an adult night school where English lessons were taught, a day care center for working mothers, and a swimming pool with hot showers. James Rath was busy overseeing these efforts, and Regna Rath worked by his side. The Raths had five children and needed at-home childcare, so they hired Mabel Smyth.

In 1912 the Raths took their five children and Smyth to Massachusetts for a sabbatical. Before the Raths returned to Honolulu, they encouraged and arranged for payment for Smyth to attend the Springfield Hospital Training School for Nurses. Upon her graduation in 1915, Smyth returned to her family in Honolulu. She spent two years as the “agent” of the Hawaiian Humane Society. The Society had a mission to relieve suffering wherever it was found – among children, animals, and even battered wives. Smyth left the Society to become the first nursing supervisor at the PS. Organizationally, the PS divided the city of Honolulu into seven districts, with a nurse assigned to each. Each nurse was responsible for providing their district school nursing, home visiting, and clinic hours. At age 26, Smyth oversaw the entire nursing program.

mabel-leilani-myth-first-hawaiian-regsiteed-nurse

Mabel Leilani Smyth was the first Hawaiian Registered Nurse with Hawaiian ancestry, often referred to as “Hawaiʻi’s Florence Nightingale”

Smyth is First Hawaiian Nurse to Earn Advanced Certificate in Nursing

Smyth took a year off from the PS, from August 1921 to August 1922, to pursue graduate work in public health nursing at Simmons College in Boston. She was the first Hawaiian nurse to earn an advanced certificate in nursing. After her year of graduate studies, she continued her supervisory work at PS until 1927, when she accepted a position with the Territorial Board of Health as the first Director of the Public Nursing Service for the Territory of Hawaii. Up to that time, the Board of Health had hired nurses in either tuberculosis work or maternal child health work. Under her leadership, these programs merged and expanded to create a generalized public health nursing program covering all the islands in the Territory. Two years later, the nurses at the PS came under the auspices of the Department of Public Health Nursing to better coordinate care and reduced duplication of services.

Smyth gave many lectures to community and professional groups on the islands to increase public understanding and support for public health nursing. She successfully strove to upgrade lay midwives’ skills and standards, instituted immunization drives against diphtheria, coordinated chest x-ray screenings for TB, organized well-baby clinics across the islands, and represented Hawaii at several national public health meetings on the mainland.

In addition to her work, Smyth was a leader in professional nursing organizations. She was a charter member of the Nurse Association of the Territory of Hawaii when it was formed in 1920 and then elected president of the organization in 1925 and 1932. Smyth was also president of the City and County of Honolulu Nurses Association, a leader of the Honolulu Chapter of the American Red Cross, and a member of the Board of Registration of Nurses from 1925 to 1935. In 1926, Smyth was a small group of nurses who created a public health nursing course at the University of Hawaii to prepare nurses who wanted to practice public health nursing.

Hawaiian Florence Nightingale

Sadly, Smyth’s life was cut short at the young age of 43 after spending half her life serving others. A sewing needle had been lodged in her chest since she was a child. On March 24, 1936, she underwent an operation to remove the needle and tragically died of a post-surgical embolism that same day.

Smyth was widely mourned both in Hawaii and in the nursing community. Her obituary in the American Journal of Nursing read in part:

Endowed with charm and a dynamic personality, she had attained a high position in the ranks of Hawaiian women of achievement. Through her devotion, sympathy, keen sense of community responsibility, spirit of cooperation, and intelligently directed energy, Miss Smyth was, at the time of her untimely death, at the very height of her powers, the outstanding leader in nursing in the Territory of Hawaii.

After her death, a committee was formed to establish a memorial to the “Hawaiian Florence Nightingale.”  It raised over $110,000 for the Mabel Smyth Memorial Building, with over 4,000 people contributing. The building was dedicated on January 4, 1941, with Hawaiian chants and music. It housed offices of the medical and nursing professional organization on the island, classrooms, a library, and an auditorium. The building was a fitting memorial to a nurse who did so much for her family, neighbors, and all Hawaiians.

Check back next week for part 3 of the Three Trailblazing Hawaiian Nurses blog series – Alice Ting Hong Young, Hawaii’s First Nurse Midwife.

Three Trailblazing Hawaiian Nurses: Part 1 – First Registered Nurse in Hawaii

Three Trailblazing Hawaiian Nurses: Part 1 – First Registered Nurse in Hawaii

Welcome to part one of Three Trailblazing Hawaiian Nurses blog series – Mabel Isabel Wilcox, First Registered Nurse in Hawaii. 

Hawai’i’ is one of the most multicultural and ethnically diverse places on Earth. This rich blend is reflective of its nursing history. Pioneer Registered Nurses in Hawaii include nurses of Native Hawaiian, English, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino heritage. Their lives and work create a beautiful kaleidoscope of service that has improved the lives of residents in this tropical paradise for over 100 years. The life stories of three groundbreaking Hawaiian RNs can inspire us all.

Mabel Isabel Wilcox 1882-1978 First Registered Nurse in Hawaii

The first Registered Nurse in Hawaii was Mabel Isabel Wilcox. Her maternal (David and Sarah Lyman) and paternal (Abner and Lucy Wilcox) grandparents were Caucasian Christian missionaries who traveled from New England to the Kingdom of Hawaii in the 1830s to establish schools and preach the Gospel.

Mabel was born on the island of Kauai on November 4, 1882, to the Wilcox’s son Samuel and the Lyman’s daughter Emma. She remembered a carefree childhood in a family that valued religion, philanthropy, education, and public service. When Wilcox was in her teens, there were no college preparatory high schools in Hawaii, so her parents sent her to California to complete her high school education. However, she stayed on the mainland, and in 1911 she graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore and passed her Registered Nurse examinations. Soon after graduation, Wilcox returned to Hawaii and began her career as the resident school nurse at the Kawaiahao Seminary, a Congregational Church-sponsored girls’ school in Honolulu, becoming the first Registered Nurse in Hawaii.

mabel-isabel-wilcox-first-rn-in-hawaii

An early photo of Mabel Wilcox Hawaii’s first Registered Nurse

Earned the Moniker “Kauku Wilikoki”

Wilcox missed her extended family on Kauai, so in 1913 she accepted an assignment to begin and head the Territorial Board of Health’s anti-tuberculosis (TB) campaign on the island. She was the only Board of Health nurse on the island and served approximately 5,000 people. Often on foot or horseback, she did case investigations, collected sputum samples, educated the community about the disease, and provided follow-up care to those diagnosed with TB. Wilcox quickly saw the need for a TB Hospital on Kauai. She convinced service clubs and business organizations on the island to support her idea and solicited most of the funds needed from her aunt and uncle, Emma and Albert Wilcox. After a year of construction, the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital opened in 1917.

Although Wilcox was hired to reduce the number of tuberculosis cases on Kauai, in 1920, Hawaii reported a 25% infant mortality rate, double that of the mainland. In addition, there were no maternal/infant health nursing programs on Kauai, so Wilcox added education on nutrition, sanitation, and healthy birthing practices to her rounds when she encountered pregnant women and young children. As a result, she earned the moniker “Kauku Wilikoki” or Doctor Wilcox for her work.

As soon as the U.S entered WWI in April 1917, Wilcox was anxious to do her part. She wrote the American Red Cross nursing service requesting an overseas assignment. Her work with maternal/child health in Hawaii gave her knowledge and experiences she would draw on during her war years.

Nurse Behind the Lines During WWI

Beginning in the winter of 1918, Wilcox was the Head Nurse of a hospital and outpatient clinic for women and children in Le Havre, France. The facility was relatively safe miles from the battlefront lines when Wilcox arrived. After that, however, the fighting grew closer. In September of 1918, Wilcox was sent into nearby Belgium, directly behind the advancing Allied troops, to inspect maternal and child health conditions and conduct clinics. While there during the final Allied campaign, she wrote to her family: “One night we were bombed, crawled under the bed, two of us trying to get into one helmet. Scared.” After the war ended, Wilcox spent another year in France helping mothers and children, many of whom were orphaned or refugees. Once the French government was stable enough to take over her work, she returned to Hawaii. She was awarded medals from the Queen of Belgium and the mayor of Le Havre for her service.

Kauai’s First Territorial Maternity and Child Health Hygiene Nurse

In 1921 Congress passed the Sheppard-Towner Act providing funds for maternal-child health programs. With these new monies, Wilcox was hired as Kauai’s first Territorial Maternity and Child Health Hygiene Nurse to focus full-time on improving the health of women and children. As they began hiring more nurses, she became the Supervising Nurse, a position she held until her retirement in 1935. In the first year, public health nurses made nearly 1,000 home visits, and newly organized “demonstration clinics” recorded an attendance of 4,403 mothers. Infant mortality dropped by 14% in the first year of the program. The program successfully provided care to 8,398 mothers and infants in 1927.

Congress discontinued funding the Sheppard-Towner programs in 1929. Then in 1930,  Wilcox became the supervisor of the new generalized public health nursing program on Kauai. She oversaw tuberculosis, maternal-child health, and school and home health nursing programs on the island. During this time, Wilcox was a leader in many professional associations. She launched the Kauai Nurses Association, served as its first president from 1932-1946, served as the first executive director of the Kauai TB Association, and was on the Board of the Mahelona Hospital.

G.N. Wilcox Memorial Hospital

On Kauai, many sugar plantations maintained small, often inadequate, hospitals for their workers and families. After Wilcox’s father and mother died (1929 and 1934, respectively), she and her siblings decided to build a new, modern general hospital in their memory. She retired in 1935 and spent her time and energy making the G.N. Wilcox Memorial Hospital a reality for the next few years. It was dedicated on November 1, 1938, with 96 beds in wards and semi-private private rooms, 17 physicians and 50 employees, and 14 graduate nurses. The hospital provided more than 10,000 days of care in the first year of operation.

Upon Wilcox’s retirement, Mabel Smyth, RN, the Head Nurse of the Territorial Board of Health, wrote a tribute to her in The Pacific Coast Journal of Nursing.

It read in part: “With clarity of purpose and wisdom in leadership Miss Wilcox has developed an unusual spirit of loyalty and devotion among her corps of nurses and superiors … every nurse … on the island turns to her for inspiration and leadership in matters pertaining to individual and community well-being.” (Smyth, M, “Public Health Nursing in Hawaii: A Tribute to Mabel I. Wilcox,” (1935) The Pacific Coast Journal of Nursing,  297-98).

 mabel-isabel-wilcox-first-rn-in-hawaii

Mabel Wilcox circa 1911 and 1951

Influence of Wilcox Lives On

In her late 50s and 60s, Wilcox stayed active with the Wilcox Hospital in an unpaid capacity. She served on the hospital board, raised money for expansions, and recruited nurses. During this time, Wilcox also became very interested in historic preservation. Because both sides of her family tree had been missionaries and plantation owners in Hawaii for over 125 years, she and her living siblings began restoration efforts to preserve their ancestral homes and papers. Today the Waiolo Mission House, the Lyman House Memorial, and Grove Farm all stand as testimonies to their efforts, as do many manuscripts, records, and correspondence housed at the Grove Farm library.

After years of declining health, Wilcox died on December 27, 1978, at age 96. Before her death, the Kauai Tuberculosis Society honored her with these words: Through the years, there has been little in the health and welfare fields on this island that does not owe its beginnings to Miss Wilcox’s vision and active support. Her scope has been not only island-wide but territorial and even national.

Wilcox is is buried on her beloved Kauai Island.

Check back next week for part 2 of the Three Trailblazing Hawaiian Nurses blog series – Mabel Leilani Smyth, First Hawaiian Registered Nurse with Hawaiian Ancestry.

Vanderbilt Launches Leadership Program for Diverse New Nurse Leaders and Faculty

Vanderbilt Launches Leadership Program for Diverse New Nurse Leaders and Faculty

Vanderbilt University School of Nursing created a new leadership development program for nurses new in health care leadership and academic positions who are from groups historically underrepresented in nursing and/or those who support them. The Academy for Diverse Emerging Nurse Leaders will be held in Nashville from November 14-18. Applications for the inaugural class of fellows are now being accepted.

“The need for nursing faculty and nurse leaders from groups historically underrepresented in nursing is well established, but research shows a need for career development resources that address the specific needs and challenges of diverse nurse leaders,” says Pamela Jeffries, PhD., FAAN, ANEF, FSSH, dean of Vanderbilt School of Nursing. “We believe that the knowledge, mentorship, strategy, and skills that new leaders will attain via the Academy for Diverse Emerging Nurse Leaders will empower them to continue to advance and lead.”

VUSN Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Rolanda Johnson and Vanderbilt University Medical Center Senior Director for Nurse Diversity and Inclusion Mamie Williams will co-direct the academy, designed for nurses who have been in academic or health care leadership roles for less than three years.

“What makes this fellows program different from other professional development opportunities is that it incorporates and builds on the lived experiences of diverse faculty and health care leaders who have navigated a similar leadership path,” says Johnson. “It explores the challenges of being a leader from an underrepresented group as well as the challenges of supporting and expanding diversity in nursing leadership.”

Academy for Diverse Emerging Nurse Leaders

Academy for Diverse Emerging Nurse Leaders

Academy for Diverse Emerging Nurse Leaders

The academy is taught by experienced faculty and health care leaders from diverse backgrounds and is specifically designed to serve the needs of new and emerging nurse leaders and faculty. In addition to the initial five-day, in-person meeting, fellows will also participate in virtual sessions, receive mentorship from an executive coach and institutional mentor and develop a leadership project.

Williams said that the idea for the academy resonated with her as she thought about her own nurse leadership journey of more than 25 years. “This leadership academy, based on specialized education, discussions, and interactions with peers and diverse nurse leaders, affords the emerging leader an opportunity to thoughtfully design their leadership journey,” she says.

She and Johnson said the academy was developed to help new nursing faculty and new nurse leaders build skills, gain knowledge, and build a network of colleagues and mentors to help them advance their careers and mentor other emerging nurse leaders.

Applications for the first cohort of the Academy for Emerging Diverse Nurse Leaders are now open and available at https://redcap.link/cwgjy0w2. For more information and details on the academy, visit nursing.vanderbilt.edu/academy.

ANA Issues Racial Reckoning Statement: “We Ask Forgiveness From Nurses of Color…”

ANA Issues Racial Reckoning Statement: “We Ask Forgiveness From Nurses of Color…”

“To begin, we must acknowledge that from 1916 until 1964, ANA purposefully, systemically and systematically excluded Black nurses…”

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is taking a meaningful first step to acknowledge its own past actions that have negatively impacted nurses of color and perpetuated systemic racism. With the release of a formal racial reckoning statement on July 12, ANA is beginning a multi-phase journey of reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing. The Journey of Racial Reconciliation is the name for ANA’s racial reckoning journey as it seeks to address past racial harms from as far back as the formation of the association in 1896.

From the ANA statement:

“Similar to the concerns raised by Black nurses, in 1974, led by Dr. Ildaura Murillo- Rhode, a group of 12 Hispanic nurses who were also members of ANA came together to consider establishing a Hispanic Nurses Caucus within ANA because ‘ANA was not being responsive to the needs of Hispanic nurses.'”

“We know that ANA’s work to reckon with our historical and institutional racist actions and inactions is long overdue. Racism is an assault on the human spirit, and we want to be accountable for our part in perpetuating it. We have certainly failed many nurses of color and ethnic-minority nursing organizations, undoubtedly damaging our relationship with them and in so doing, diluting the richness of the nursing profession. We ask forgiveness from nurses of color as a first step to mend what is broken,” said ANA CEO Loressa Cole, DNP, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN.

“ANA recognizes that issues of racism persist today and continue to harm nurses of color. Findings from the Commission’s 2021 national survey on racism in nursing (n = 5,600) noted that racist acts are principally perpetrated by colleagues and those in positions of power. Over half of nurses surveyed (63%) said they had personally experienced an act of racism in the workplace with the transgressors being either a peer (66%) or a manager or supervisor (60%). Fifty-six percent of respondents also noted that racism in the workplace has negatively impacted their professional well-being.”

On June 11, 2022, the ANA Membership Assembly, ANA’s highest governing body, took historic action to begin a journey of racial reckoning by unanimously adopting the ANA Racial Reckoning Statement. Please read the entire statement and stay connected with ANA on its journey.

Trailblazers in Nursing History: Chinese-American Nurse Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo, RN (Part Two)

Trailblazers in Nursing History: Chinese-American Nurse Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo, RN (Part Two)

Part Two: Nursing in War-Torn China

(To read Part One, click here)

At the beginning of the war, rural China had very few hospitals, medical supplies, equipment or trained personnel. Malnutrition, lack of basic sanitation, overwork and disease were commonplace, making the provision of health care very challenging.  Rural people usually relied on traditional Chinese medicine and practitioners. The Chinese Army Medical Corps was unprepared to care for hundreds of thousands of ill and injured soldiers, much less help a large civilian population.  Some Western-trained Chinese physicians, along with European and North American doctors practicing in China, had founded the CRCMRC early in the twentieth century. The organization was invaluable in free China during World War II by supplying medical personnel, training and equipment (Mamlok, 2018).  Seetoo was familiar with their work and had spearheaded financial collections for the CRCMRC while she was a student nurse. The lack of adequate supplies is illustrated by this recollection of Seetoo’s time with the CRCMRC:

“When I was at the Chinese Red Cross in Guiyang I saw how they were very economical in using their materials, like the dressings …  the very soiled dressings would be thrown out, but there was a great big vat or a pond they had that was full of bleach and whatever, that they throw some of the …  not-so-soiled [dressings] …  to kind of bleach them clean, and after they were clean they would autoclave them and reuse those dressings again …” (Trojanowski, 2005).

Her work with the CRCMRC did not last long. She explained:

“My schoolmate, whose sister had been at Women’s College [of the University of North Carolina] … had gone up to Yenan back in 1938, and Yenan was where the Chinese Communists had holed out during Chiang Kai-shek’s time … she had finished high school and she wanted to join them, because she thought …  they were doing the job of fighting the Japanese better than the Nationalists …  because I knew the family, before I left Hong Kong to come inland I had gone to see the mother, and the mother said, “When you have a chance once you get inland, will you please write my daughter to tell her that we’re safe.” So that was all I did. But then the Chinese Nationalists have a way of censoring all the mail, opening all the mail that goes up there, or at least they take note of it, and the next thing I know they got hold of the nursing superintendent … my supervisor at the Chinese Red Cross, and asked about me … But, you know, the Chinese Nationalists were very—even during my high school years I hear all kinds of stories about people disappearing.  So, when there was an opportunity to volunteer to go to India, I volunteered … But after I went over to India and then came back to Kunming, they lost my trail. That was the end of it.” (Trojanowski, 2005).

Seetoo spent the months from late December 1942 until the monsoons began in June 1943 at Camp Ramgarh, India, training Chinese Army medics in first aid and rudimentary medical procedures.  She said this about her time in India, “For several months we lived kind of the Boy Scout, Girl Scout type of a camping life. I enjoyed it as long as I didn’t have to cook.”  (Trojanowski, 2005).

US citizenship: lost and regained

The CRCMRC trainers shared space at Camp Ramgarh with the US Army 95th Station Hospital.  In the summer of 1943, the two groups left India together for Kunming.  After returning to Kunming the CRCMRC training unit was disbanded, and Seetoo applied to work at the 95th Station Hospital as a member of the US Army Nurse Corps. She was turned down because she had “performed military service for another country” and thus, unbeknownst to her, lost her US citizenship.  She later recalled:

“They [US Army] considered that because of my being in the medical service training unit, it was part of the Chinese army … to regain my U.S. citizenship I had to take the oath of allegiance again, and oath of renunciation and allegiance, which I did.” (Trojanowski, 2005)

Now she was a US citizen both by birth and by naturalization. A year passed between the time it took for her to apply to the Army Nurse Corps, learn she was rejected due to her lost citizenship, regain her US citizenship, and apply again.  She was accepted and on June 17, 1944, she became the first Chinese American nurse to serve in the US Army Nurse Corps.  She entered at the rank of First Lieutenant.  Although she did not serve near the ground war, her hospital was attacked repeatedly by the Japanese Air Force.  “The planes came over to drop their bombs. The Japanese would penetrate [the defensive perimeter of the hospital] and we would hear the sirens and run for cover” (Lee, 2019).

The 95th Station Hospital’s official Army history notes the hospital was:

” … Reached by plane over the Himalayan mountain range-one of the most picturesque, albeit dangerous, flights in the world … having weathered monsoons, air raids, and indoctrination in the treatment and prevention of various tropical diseases …. It functioned as a station hospital to care for battle casualties from the various fronts in China … Officers, nurses and enlisted men were required to learn and carry out duties in addition to those for which they were trained. Long hours of work, doubling-up on duties and diligent application to new tasks were the rule rather than the exception.” (History of the 95th, 1951)

She was the only nurse with the unit fluent in both English and Chinese and was highly valued for both her nursing and her language skills.  Seetoo spent the last months of her military duty, after the war, with the 172nd General Hospital in Shanghai and was discharged to the United States in the spring of 1946.

Years later, Seetoo reflected on her time in China:

“I had spent a total of fifteen years in China. I had had a huge opportunity to dig deeper into my roots and learn more about my Chinese heritage, its history, geography, and traditions. The war years gave me the opportunity to sample places I knew in earlier times only through a geography book, and met people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. I was able to personally taste Guangxi’s famous pomelos, admire Guilin’s landscapes, read the couplets framing the temple by Kunming Lake, felt the dusty loess blow against my face in northwest China, heard the drum roll from towers over city gates, and see the flickering ghost fires dance outside city walls. It was truly, to quote Dickens, ‘the worst of times and the best of times,’ and on touching U.S. soil I felt I was really straddling two cultures.” (Trojanowski, 2005)

After visiting her family in Stockton, Seetoo visited friends on the east coast.  In Washington, DC she met Joe Yuen, who worked on electrical systems for satellites at the Naval Research Laboratory.  They had a whirlwind courtship and married after six weeks. When Seetoo met Yuen, she was already admitted into the new Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program at Women’s College of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro).  Using veteran’s benefits to pay for college, from 1946-1948, she took classes during the week in Greensboro and commuted to Washington to see her new husband on weekends and during school breaks (.

After graduation she moved permanently to the Washington, DC area and spent the next 15 years focused on caring for her husband and their four children. During this time, Seetoo became a freelance translator of English/Chinese medical literature for a company in Washington. Perhaps her best-known translation is the Chinese paramedic text, “A Barefoot Doctor’s Manual.”  In the 1970s she worked as a technical publication writer and editor at the Naval Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health (Moy, 2014).

Receiving the Congressional Gold Medal

Elsie Chin Yuen Seetoo, RN.

On December 20, 2018, President Trump signed the Chinese American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act, which had passed Congress unanimously.  Soon after, on January 29, 2019, Seetoo was selected to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress, on behalf of all Chinese American World War II veterans. Several high-ranking elected officials and officers of all the military branches expressed their gratitude to these veterans (U.S. Department, 2019).  During the ceremony, Seetoo said:

“We have waited a long time for this moment. I am deeply honored to receive this Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of my sisters and brothers. I hope our perseverance, commitment, and hard work will further inspire our young people to serve this wonderful country.” (Eng, 2020)

Today, at 102, Seetoo is living outside Washington DC enjoying her friends and family.

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