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Pa Nyia Thao

Cultural Awareness in Nursing: One Herzing Student Shares her Perspective

Herzing student Pa Nyia Thao answers a few questions about the importance of cultural awareness in nursing from her own experiences.

My name is Pa Nyia Thao. I am currently in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at Herzing University’s Madison campus. I always knew that healthcare would be a good fit for me because I love learning about how the human body works, and I enjoy working with and helping people. I earned my associate degree in 2019 and have been a registered nurse (RN) for over a year.

One specific experience that influenced me to pursue a healthcare career happened years ago while visiting family members at the hospital when I was still a teenager. I was asked by the healthcare team to be an interpreter for my family members, and I remember wondering why a licensed interpreter was not available. I panicked when I was put on the spot, but I agreed. I was able to provide information as accurately as possible.

The cultural differences, barriers and disconnect I noticed made this a valuable and teachable experience. From my observations, it appeared that the healthcare team didn’t understand that there weren’t word-for-word translations for everything they were trying to communicate and my family members felt that their healthcare needs were not fully met. I realized that the need for more education about the Hmong culture and more cultural awareness overall in the healthcare field

Below, I’ve answered a few important questions about the importance of cultural awareness in nursing and what it means to me.

How would you define cultural awareness in nursing care?

To me, cultural awareness in nursing care means recognizing and accepting different beliefs, values and practices. Ethnicity is often one of the first things we think of when talking about diversity. However, diversity also includes age, religion, physical abilities, sexual orientation and other dimensions that can be used to differentiate groups and individuals from each other. We begin with education and learning how to accommodate patients to provide them the best quality care. 

How has this impacted your nursing education?

My identity and experiences remind me every day of how I can make a positive difference in nursing. By sharing what I know and bringing in my experiences, I offer a different perspective and valuable insight to my healthcare teams. I can also help my teams grow and get a better understanding of how to work with the Hmong community appropriately by being open about my cultural beliefs and practices. 

What role does it play for other nursing students?

I hope I inspire more people from other cultures and backgrounds to pursue higher education or continue chasing their dream. If they choose a nursing career, I hope they keep an open mind and push for positive changes that the healthcare industry needs. As a person of color with a unique identity, I hope that sharing my experiences brings power and encouragement to others who may feel inferior when they have just as much or even more potential to accomplish their goals.

Why is cultural awareness so important?

The U.S. population is becoming more and more diverse, with recent estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau showing that nearly 40% of Americans identify as nonwhite or Hispanic. To provide the best interventions and care we can, nurses must keep an open mind and continue learning about other cultures. For example, it’s important to know how patients’ beliefs influence their perception of traditional healthcare and treatment plans. Nursing is not a linear education pathway, and the healthcare field is always advancing with new information. 

What are your plans for the future?

I am still learning every day on the job as an RN, but I hope to become a family nurse practitioner in a few years and work with and give back to the Hmong community. I feel like a bridge connecting my community with access to healthcare and getting their needs met. There may be days or times that I run into issues, but each challenge we overcome creates a stronger and sturdier bridge for my community. I’m looking forward to collaborating with people and organizations who support my vision and goals.

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2022 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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