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From Refugee to Nursing Student

In 1980 Michael Vu escaped Saigon, Vietnam in a wooden fishing boat with three of his ten siblings. The so-called boat people faced danger and the risk of imprisonment if caught, but found the opportunity to escape religious, social and economic oppression irresistible. Landing in one of several Southeast Asian refugee camps established for those fleeing the country, the siblings continued to dream of a new start in the U.S.

After six months in the camps Catholic Social Services found a sponsor for the Vu family in the U.S. As a 14-year-old refugee, Michael had a new language and culture to learn as he traversed the uncertain waters of American high school. Learning English mostly on his own, Michael worked hard and succeeded.

Michael’s elementary-school educated parents “instilled strong Christian ethics and morals in their ten children and planted a dream for freedom and a better life in the promise of America,” he says.

They knew their children would need advanced education in the U.S. and all four have succeeded. Two are doctors, one is a laboratory technician and Michael, who became a U.S. citizen in 1989, already holds a BS in Organismal Biology from the University of Kansas. He has been a business owner, an electronics technician, and a computer technician in his varied career. Throughout his amazing experiences some things have remained constant in Michael’s life. He has always enjoyed working with people and healthcare has always been an interest. In fact he says he considered nursing school in the late 90’s but was discouraged by the lack of males in the field at the time.

After a failed business partnership in 2009, Michael was looking for a new challenge with a more certain employment future. His three brothers encouraged him to consider nursing again.

“They knew my personality would lend itself to being a good nurse,” he said. “It’s an intellectually demanding field and at the same time requires empathy and the desire to give true service to other human beings,” he states.

Now in his 40’s, the husband and father of two is reinventing his career through the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) Program at MidAmerica Nazarene University, with the help of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Careers in Nursing Scholarship (NCIN).

Michael’s financial situation after closing his business made attending college again a difficult challenge. Then he heard about MNU’s partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. One of 52 U.S. institutions granted the special scholarship funding; MNU is able to help 10 students this year from demographic backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in nursing. Not only did the scholarship help Michael financially, it also solidified his decision to attend MNU.

“I knew UMKC and KU had BSN programs, but they don’t have the RWJF association,” he asserts. “It’s not easy to get. You have to be a prestigious school. I’m blessed to receive the scholarship.”

The hardships of his early years have strengthened his character, resilience and passion which he thinks will also benefit him as a nurse.

“These life lessons gave me a true appreciation of life, and a desire to give back to a country that has given me so much,” he asserts. “Nursing is a noble profession because not only are you caring for people when they are really sick, but you are helping to restore their dignity while meeting a basic human need.”

Michael says his current clinical rotation in the ABSN program is in a local hospital where he recently followed a patient from pre-op through discharge. After his final clinical rotation, he will complete an internship — a 168-hour, 7-week, intensive clinical experience at a local hospital — prior to completing his BSN.

“I don’t know what direction I am heading in nursing yet,” he says. “Good nurses are needed in all areas of nursing and I just want to be a good nurse.”

While there’s pressure in an accelerated nursing program, Michael says the professors at MNU work together to schedule assignments so that if there’s a test in one class, the other professors try not to schedule tests at the same time.

“It’s challenging, hard work, but my experience at MNU has been wonderful,” he says. “I tell everyone about MNU. They are devoted to helping students succeed.”

When reflecting on his journey from Vietnam refugee to U.S. citizen and nursing student, Michael says he feels humbled and blessed.

“The RWJF scholarship is a tremendous benefit in the pursuit of my dream of becoming a dedicated and compassionate nurse,” he says. “This is one way I can give back to this great country.”

MidAmerica Nazarene University’s School of Nursing and Health Science is a grant recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Careers in Nursing Scholarship Program (NCIN). Funding supports students in the university’s accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing program who are traditionally underrepresented in the field of nursing. The NCIN Scholarship Program was launched in 2008 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to address the national nursing shortage, develop a diverse professional nursing workforce, and fuel the pipeline of nurse faculty and leaders. MNU is in its third year of funding from RWJF.

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Winter 2019

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