Minority Nurse Scholarship finalist Shanelle McMillan says nursing is a family tradition, but that she has been especially gratified to start her nursing career as a certified nursing assistant (CNA).
Now a junior in Winston-Salem State University’s Division of Nursing, McMillan’s five-year plan includes an RN, a BSN, and enrollment in the doctorate of nursing at Winston-Salem State University where she would eventually like to teach.
But she believes her training as a CNA gave her the most fundamental and essential introduction to nursing that she could have. In her scholarship application, McMillan called becoming a CNA one of her most meaningful achievements.
As a CNA, McMillan says she was able to see if nursing was really going to be the right career choice for her. Always the first to comfort others who are upset or in pain, McMillan says the experience as a CNA offered close work with patients where she was able to see almost immediate impact.
“I believe the benefits of starting as a CNA is to get your hands and feet wet in the healthcare system and to see if you will really like nursing or not,” she says. And the daily interactions with people meant she would spend considerable amounts of time caring for patients, but also getting to know them as well.
“As a CNA I have first-hand knowledge of the struggles of disabled persons and what they go through on a daily basis,” she says. “I get to interact with the client which is the most important of all because if you get to know your client, it will be easier to care for them.”
And McMillan says this is also where she saw the benefits of a diverse nursing staff. When patients see people who look like they do or have the same cultural experiences, they are more open, she says. Developing that strong bond helps with treatment.
Raised primarily by her grandmother in Richmond, Virginia, McMillan’s determination and drive come from watching her. As a nurse who worked long hours, McMillan’s grandmother always helped people, even during her off hours. That kind of role model was a huge influence.
“My determination comes from my rough childhood and upbringing,” she says. “My dad always told me to be strong and tough, and my grandmother always taught me to never give up.”
As she has progressed through nursing school, McMillan says the friends she has made and the supportive professors have all helped her success. And McMillan also credits her faith with keeping her moving forward. “There were a lot of setbacks in my life getting me to this point,” she says. “And I have to give thanks and all honor to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without him, I don’t even think I would be in nursing school.”
With her progression through the various opportunities in the nursing profession, McMillan says she is especially conscious of being part of a group that is so determined in its dedication.
“Some say all nurses have at least one thing in common,” says McMillan, “they want to help people. Not only do they play the role of caretaker for their patients, but in some circumstances, they can also be a friend, an advocate, counselor and teacher. It takes a special kind of person to fill all of those roles the way nurses do.”
With very shaky beginnings as a malnourished infant in his native Vietnam, Nam Pham, one of this year’s Minority Nurse Scholarship winners, describes his challenge-filled life as an ultra-marathon.
Despite the different professional, personal, and academic setbacks that resulted from his earliest years, Pham says his outlook puts it all into perspective. As he pursues his master of science degree in nursing at the UCLA School of Nursing, he plans to use his dual roles as a health care provider and a health care consumer to become an integral part of building what he calls a working health care infrastructure. And with a focus on teamwork and collaboration, he believes the profession benefits from a diverse nursing force.
“Always maintaining a steady pace and keeping my eye on the finish line, I am determined to jump over any and all hurdles to pursue a meaningful medical career and live a meaningful life,” he wrote on his scholarship application.
Pham’s family left Vietnam, but their new life in the drug-riddled Oakland, California, projects presented new challenges. But through it all, Pham says he didn’t back down from choosing a notoriously demanding career.
“Success may take weeks,” he says. “It may take months. Maybe years. I don’t expect the nursing profession to be an easy one.” But with his own experience with health struggles to call on, the direct connection to patients, some of whom will face seemingly insurmountable odds, will be there.
“Many patients will have year-long health care journeys,” he says, but he notes that he wants to be an encouraging and compassionate support. And just like he has seen in his own life, the road to good health is made up of both success and failures—neither of which define the whole path. So when patients are overwhelmed, he can bring it back to what counts. “We’d take it one step at a time, day-by-day,” he says.
To reflect on his comparison to life as an ultra-marathon, Pham put his beliefs into real action running 700 kilometers across Canada from Quebec to Ottawa connecting with people about AIDS and HIV issues. The run’s physical challenges were tough, but with a love of both talking and listening, it was an opportunity to connect in a way he hasn’t done before.
And after listening to the struggles of many patients, Pham says he knows how complex a nurse’s role is. “A good nurse will be able to bridge any gap between a physician and a patient, providing not only medical but also emotional support,” he says. “Reducing the gap will not always be easy and that is why a good nurse will always listen with an open ear, interpreting and analyzing the situation before speaking and integrating a plan for the betterment of the patient and/or physician.”
When asked where he might see himself in five years, with his degree complete, Pham is clear. “I will be operating a mobile health clinic on wheels in underserved communities, providing primary care to the forgotten and neglected,” he says. “It is my hope and dream to give back to the communities that provided me with life’s most basic necessities when I first came to the United States.”
Kara Bellucci, this year’s Minority Nurse Scholarship winner, never considered nursing as a potential career. Lacking the confidence to dive into hard sciences, and with a real passion for family, race, and class issues, Bellucci’s life changed when she spent three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, Africa.
“When I came back to the States, I realized that one-to-one connection was the common thread,” she says. Bellucci began on a path to nursing that included taking some classes to prepare for nursing school and to complete requirements beyond her bachelor’s degree in women’s studies from the University of California, Davis. Now a nursing student at Columbia University’s intensive 15-month master’s program, Bellucci will launch immediately into Columbia’s 3-year-long clinical doctoral degree program upon completion of the master’s degree work.
“Nursing came to me organically,” she says. “I didn’t think connecting with people was a skill I could translate into work. Nursing was reaching out to people and it’s a holistic approach. It’s about physical and emotional wellness. I didn’t know that kind of nursing existed.”
The connections Bellucci forms with people is what grounds her to a career in nursing. In Malawi, she says one of her roles was to help connect a group of women bakers with other resources in the community so they could bake and sell products. The satisfaction in helping the women, seeing them thrive, and being a part of that made a huge impact on Bellucci. “A lot of that is in nursing,” she says. “It’s connecting people with resources.”
And Bellucci has also spent time as an outreach worker for people in single occupancy hotel rooms and on the streets in San Francisco. Bellucci, who was unfamiliar with the surroundings, says she had a lot of misconceptions about the community at first. And the realization that her own bias could impact her nursing was powerful. Despite different backgrounds and lifestyles, Bellucci says she still formed connections based on common threads with the people she was helping and the goal of safety and health.
“I realized that it’s going to be important through this career to check in on the different layers of my identity,” she says. The process will help her take a step back sometimes and consider how her own life experience could change how she sees something.
Eventually, Bellucci would like to go into family practice where the connections with patients often span decades and generations as well. “You can develop longevity with patients,” she says. “That’s an environment I would enjoy.” And Bellucci says she can see eventually circling back to her global experience to somehow get involved with international nursing.
For now, Bellucci says the scholarship will help her financially so she can get the skills she needs first. But it also serves as a reminder, she says, and a validation for how important nursing is.
“It’s a nice affirmation to find out there are others who think there’s more diversity to be brought into the field,” she says. “It’s an affirmation and the excitement for that.”
And like most nursing students, Bellucci says she is apprehensive about the student debt she is accruing as is her family. “To tell them I got the scholarship was reassurance that other institutions believe in me too,” she says. “It’s a nice confidence vote.”
Even from the time she was a very young girl in China, YiWan Wu has watched the incredible changes individual nurses bring around with their careful and dedicated care. Now a student in Stony Brook University’s nursing program and a runner up for this year’s Minority Nurse Scholarship, Wu’s graduation next spring will bring her that much closer to her goal of being a nurse who helps people get healthy and stay that way with good preventative care and lots of knowledge.
Wu’s decision to become a pediatric nurse practitioner followed the same path of many other nurses. “I saw in China how nurses interact with the patients and how a nurse’s care and interaction can make a difference,” she says. “It inspired me and I thought, ‘I want to be a caring nurse for other people,’” she says.
Unfortunately, Wu saw both sides of the story. When her grandmother passed away in 2004, Wu says her care experience was poor. So seeing the difference a good nurse can make reinforced her beliefs even more.
Wu’s family immigrated to the US in 2008, and Wu went on to begin her undergraduate work at Stony Brook. During several volunteering opportunities, she saw the changes nurses can make and listened to the visions they had for their care giving. She credits her good experiences with the other nurses for giving her ideas on how she wanted to make positive interactions with patients. “It makes such a change in health care,” she says. And she was open with the nurses she watched so closely. “I told them, ‘You changed my life,’” she says. “They taught me so much and gave me the vision of what I wanted to do.”
Wu’s volunteer efforts have brought her into daily contact with stoke patients and those who might not be verbal or who may have very limited communication. “I just try to make it easier for them,” says Wu. “And make sure they are not suffering. And I talk to them when the family members aren’t around.” Keeping up a constant stream of one-sided chatter was challenging at first, she says. But as she got to know her patients, they were able to develop communication through small movements. Family and visitors would tell Wu about the patient’s life, and she often used those details to talk with them, even if they couldn’t respond.
Eventually, Wu plans to go into pediatrics. Wu herself was a premature and ill baby in China, and she believes better resources would have helped her more. Her early experiences have helped shape her commitment to healthy living and to educating others about living a healthy life.
“I really believe in preventative care,” she says. She uses whatever means she’s got to make sure others are informed and educated about everything from HIV testing to getting flu shots. Wu’s volunteer efforts are extensive and award winning. At school, she’s a peer educator with CHOICE – Choosing Healthy Options in the College Environment – and in leadership programs as well. She was selected as a student representative of the American College Health Association.
One cause close to Wu’s heart is bone marrow testing, and she has launched many bone marrow donor drives in her community. People are afraid donating life-saving bone marrow will be very painful and is risky, she says. As with everything, Wu says, there’s a slight risk to it, but most donors are back to work in 48 hours. And something relatively simple can save someone’s life. “I want to help as much as I can,” she says. Thus far, Wu says she has added 362 new donors to national lists and raised more than $1800 for the cause.
Wu hopes to study abroad before she settles into full-time work and would like to travel to Africa. Post-graduation, the NCLEX exams will be at the top of her to-do list, and she is glad the scholarship will make her path easier. “I did not expect that I would get this,” says Wu about the scholarship. “It makes me very happy.”
Eventually, she would like to work in an emergency unit with a high immigrant population and earn her doctorate of nursing practice. “It would be my dream to give back to the profession and become a professor of nursing,” she says.
When Minority Nurse Scholarship finalist, Erika Colindres, was asked about her view of nursing as a career, she often takes a broad view.
Nursing, she says, is about so much more than medicine. “A nurse isn’t just a health care provider,” she says. “They are cheerleaders and they push patients on.”
Colindres realized the impact a single nurse can have on so many lives, especially the lives of those who can otherwise get lost in the system because they have a language barrier that prevents full understanding.
“I became really interested in this when I started my internship,” Colindres says of her post-grad opportunity through the University of Michigan. Colindres worked with MHP Salud, an organization that deals with health care issues of migrant farm workers. “Lots of the workers only spoke Spanish,” she says. “Some things get lost in translation and the workers told me that’s why they don’t go to a doctor or a nurse. But they won’t get proper care.”
As the daughter of immigrant parents, the ramifications of translation problems have surfaced in her own life. Her mom recently went to her physician for one problem and came home with medication unrelated to her complaints. When Colindres questioned her mom and called the physician, they realized he misunderstood what Colindres’ mother was saying.
Colindres says she would like to be in health care so she can help her community in some way. The thought of a patient coping with a health problem or crisis then having a language barrier to overcome is daunting, she says. And while Colindres says the medical field has fascinated her since middle school, it was the realization of how close nurses are to patients that redirected this once-premed major to nursing school.
Because nurses work so closely with patients and see them constantly, they learn what is normal for a patient. “If something goes wrong, the nurse is the first one to know,” says Colindres. “I would rather be that person.”
Because nursing is so varied, Colindres feels like her previous schooling will serve her well. “I took a different route,” she says. Colindres graduated with her bachelor’s in biology from St. Lawrence University in 2012. This September, Colindres begins an accelerated nursing program at New Jersey City University. The program takes a year and is intense, but Colindres is excited. “I am full of emotion,” she says. “I’m nervous, excited, stressed. I can’t wait.”
Colindres’ recent work as a clinical research coordinator at a reproductive health office has shown her what she would like to use her nursing degree for in the future. “Hopefully, I will have a job in a labor and delivery unit,” says Colindres. “Eventually, if all goes well, I want to be a a midwife.” Although she knows that career means many more years of school, Colindres says she feels like she is on the right path for her. And she’s especially glad to be there if there are any language barriers to overcome.
“It makes me happy that I am helping my community,” she says.
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