By Meg Walker and Monique Binkley Smith, Vitals contributors
Three Bay Area nurses were able to achieve their dream jobs in part because of scholarships they received through their employer, Sutter’s Palo Alto Medical Foundation. For 14 years, PAMF has awarded scholarships to staff who are pursuing a nursing degree while also working. The scholarships are made possible through the generosity of a grateful patient. For the recipients, the scholarships have meant financial help and also a valuable vote of confidence in their potential.
“I am more inspired knowing that someone believes in me,” says registered nurse April Martinez. “Sutter has supported my career progress and the managers and staff have been supportive that I can provide a much-needed service.”
At PAMF’s dermatology clinic in Mountain View, Martinez helps diagnose and treat patients who suffer from skin diseases caused by contact skin dermatitis. She works with patients who have complex cases with itchy red rashes that are uncomfortable and can be tricky to treat.
“I find this work to be the most fulfilling work I’ve done in my medical career,” she says.
Martinez started at PAMF as a medical assistant 10 years ago. She returned temporarily to her native Philippines where she finished a program for licensed vocational nurses and then went on to complete a bachelor of science degree. When she returned to the Bay Area, Martinez passed the state licensing exam necessary to work as a registered nurse in the United States. She is now working toward earning a nurse practitioner degree. Her scholarship helped her cover childcare and school expenses.
Sophia Mua, a registered nurse at PAMF’s radiation oncology clinic in Palo Alto, says she always wanted to be a nurse.
Mua’s family left Vietnam during political unrest, and she lived in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to the U.S. as a young child. She remembers taking her parents to medical appointments and translating medical terminology into their native Hmong language.
Mua got her start working as a patient service representative at PAMF’s breast health clinic in 2009. She then worked at PAMF’s Los Altos clinic as a PSR coordinator and enrolled in a licensed vocational nurse program. After earning her LVN certificate, she transferred to PAMF’s radiation oncology clinic. As Mua moved from one position to another, there was a constant theme: “The management staff at PAMF really helped me pursue my goal, advocating for me to continue my education and go to school,” she says.
After nine years at PAMF, Mua began working toward a bachelor of science degree in nursing. It was a heavy load: She was working at PAMF, continuing her education, caring for young children, and commuting to the Central Valley for her clinical rotations.
A PAMF manager encouraged her to apply for a scholarship. The money allowed Mua to stay in a hotel rather than commute back and forth to San Jose, where she lived. The grant also helped pay for other expenses associated with school.
“My colleagues were great supporters,” Mua says. “Sutter has made a positive impact in my nursing career, both professionally and personally. I’ve moved up the ladder leadership-wise, and I’ve met wonderful people who are like a part of my family.”
The hard work has been worth it, she says.
“Many times our patients are newly diagnosed and not hearing everything,” she said. “So we try to help them understand the diagnosis and treatment. It can be tough for patients to hear all this, but we do it in a way that is graceful and respectful. My colleagues are always here to help with the impact. It’s the epitome of what a work family is.”
Registered nurse Vuth Vann also works at PAMF’s radiation oncology clinic in Palo Alto, caring for patients with cancer and their families. She assesses patients, provides education, monitors symptoms, and works closely with physicians.
“We care for patients from the beginning,” she says, “we see them daily while they’re are on treatment and we continue to follow their care. We look at the patient as a whole and we help them with whatever they need assistance on, even if that means helping with paperwork.”
Healthcare was a natural choice for a career, Vann explains.
Her family fled Cambodia during political unrest in the 1970s and she arrived in this country as a baby. She remembers her family getting help from a social worker and has a lasting memory of how much someone can make a positive difference in your life, even if you don’t know them.
Vann, who grew up in San Jose, was convinced she wanted to work with patients after becoming a certified nursing assistant.
“It was then when I knew that I wanted to become a nurse. I love the interaction that I have with patients,” she says. “Every patient has a story and I enjoy listening to every one of them. I learn so much this way.”
She started working as a licensed vocational nurse at PAMF and then moved to breast health and surgical oncology. Vann wanted to move up the career ladder, so she enrolled in a nursing program at California State University, Chico, studying for a bachelor of science degree in nursing. She commuted to Chico for in-class learning and to nearby hospitals to complete her clinical rotations.
It was a full schedule, and Vann says the PAMF nursing scholarship helped in many ways. She was able to use the money to help pay for transportation, books and supplies.
“They believed in me and gave me the opportunity to turn my dream into a reality,” she says.