By Caitlin Clark and Megan Hinners
Phuoc Hong Nhan grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland, an ethnically diverse city with over 18,000 residents. Nhan says that even in a city as diverse as his hometown, he was a minority. “There wasn’t a lot of Asian people there; it was mainly Black and Hispanic populations. Growing up around those cultures was interesting and exposed me to a lot. I had a very eclectic experience with everyone, and I grew up in different ways that I think are unique to my personal experience,” says Nhan.
During his senior year of high school, Nhan’s guidance counselor nominated him for the Posse Scholarship Program, one of the most comprehensive and renowned college access and youth leadership development programs in the United States. After three months of interviews, he was accepted into UW–Madison’s Posse Program, and he had to complete nine months of training before coming to campus. “I didn’t know UW–Madison existed until I received the scholarship,” Nhan admits. “I hadn’t visited until I came here for SOAR [Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration].” Soon after arriving, though, he began to fall in love with the campus, especially the lake, and felt more at home the more he learned about the university.
Similarly, nursing was not on his radar when he arrived in Madison. He initially started his undergraduate career as a math major. He learned quickly, however, that his interests were elsewhere. “I always knew I wanted to help people. When I did my internship as an EMT, I got to be at the bedside. I got to do small nursing skills such as taking vitals, and it really cemented my interest [in nursing]. It just felt right to me.” Nhan joined the pre-nursing program his sophomore year and then the traditional bachelor of science in nursing (TBSN) program his junior year.
Coming to an unfamiliar university in a brand-new state can be challenging for anyone, but being a multicultural student added additional challenges for Nhan. “I can’t say that it [was] easy. Adapting and acclimating to this climate [was] kind of hard being, you know, the minority on campus and navigating your way through a predominantly white institution,” he says.
“I [was] fortunate enough to be in the Posse Scholarship Program. It gave me the tools and the right people to help me navigate this campus and kind of make me feel [at] home here on campus.” Nhan also credits School of Nursing diversity officer, Mel Freitag, PhD, as a vital member of his support system. From declaring himself as a pre-nursing student through graduation, Freitag continually provided guidance, resources, and support to ensure his needs as a minority nursing student were met.
Naturally curious and tenacious, Nhan sought out numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth during his undergraduate career. He spent a summer as an intern at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, researching speech and language disorders, specifically using measures to correctly diagnose children with such disorders. In his senior year, he was a resident assistant at Sellery Hall; worked as a certified nursing assistant on the internal general medicine unit at UW Health; and served as president of the Multicultural Student Nurse Organization. On top of that, he graduated from the School of Nursing Honors Program in May amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I feel as if the pandemic has put me on a straighter path to my career plans. Being inside gave me a lot of time to think and reflect on what I want to do, what I want to be, and how I can improve myself.” —Phuoc Hong Nhan ’20
With classes moving to remote instruction and in-person clinicals being cancelled, Nhan took advantage of having limited outings and personal interactions by using the time for self-reflection. “I feel as if the pandemic has put me on a straighter path to my career plans. Being inside gave me a lot of time to think and reflect on what I want to do, what I want to be, and how I can improve myself. It also gave me a lot of extra time to study for and take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).”
“When I was a CNA at UW Health, I was on the COVID unit. It was a little jarring because in the earlier stages of the pandemic, no one knew what was going to happen and how we were going to handle it,” says Nhan, who is now a registered nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Fortunately, Nhan has not been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients during his first few months on Johns Hopkins’s infectious disease unit. However, the experiences he went through in his final months as a student are helping him maneuver through uncharted territory. “The ones that I’ve seen have been through a lot. It hurts to see someone who had no previous health conditions deteriorate so much, even after the infection has cleared.”
Nhan’s biggest challenge since entering the workforce is seeing patients struggle to receive care due to financial strains. “I want to advocate and help as much as I can, but there is only so much that I can do with my role,” he says. “Though, it does give me the opportunity to build strong relations with the social worker and case management to find solutions for my patients.”
Like Nightingale, Nhan is not content with the status quo and continuously seeks ways to improve himself, his community, and the nursing profession. For now, he is soaking up every opportunity presented in the infectious disease unit. In the future, he hopes to gain experience working with all patient populations, especially pediatrics, before entering a Family DNP program.