Pratistha Kharel, a junior in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Seattle University, was among the 2022 awardees of the Rosemary Ford Future of Oncology Nursing Scholarship awarded by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA).
Kharel and her family came to the United States from Nepal where they experienced political instability and poverty living in one small household. A turning point in her life involved the failure of local spiritual shamanist practices to cure the illness of her uncle who lived in the same household. Her uncle’s untimely passing from gallbladder cancer within three days of diagnosis was as shocking as it was life changing for her. It made her decide to pursue a career in health care to prevent similar situations from happening to others in her family and beyond.
“Pratistha had to overcome many hardships in life to be where she is today. I value her determination to become an oncology nurse and to subsequently use this knowledge to improve health and health care of people in a global context,” said Dr. Danuta Wojnar, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs at SU College of Nursing.
“SU’s mission to improve health care for greater equality and an ethical society aligns with my life purpose and makes it the ideal school for me,” said Kharel. She demonstrates her commitment to caring for vulnerable and underserved people as a personal care worker for elderly at a local long-term and as a volunteer at other long-term facilities interacting with residents who speak Hindu and Nepali languages, which she speaks fluently in addition to English.
Kharel took time to share more about her life experiences and goals with us.
Tell us a little about yourself and your experiences.
My name is Pratistha Kharel, and I am a first-generation student from a rural village in Nepal who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13. I grew up in a multi-generational family where I cared for my aging grandparents and younger cousins while my parents worked. In my village, modern health care was a luxury rather than a necessity due to limited access, illiteracy, and expense.
Attending school in the U.S. was an opportunity I especially appreciated, since not all girls had the chance to finish high school or hold jobs in Nepal. This experience shaped my perspective. It made me want to learn everything as best I could and, as soon as I turned 16, I got my first paid job.
My unpaid work, as a new immigrant with parents experiencing a language barrier, included caring for my younger sibling, preparing meals while my parents worked, and translating my homework into English before completing my assignments late into the evening. These challenges made me the person I am today, confident and capable of overcoming any obstacle that comes my way.
What drew you to pursue your BSN at SU?
SU’s mission to improve health care for greater equality and an ethical society aligns with my life purpose and makes it the ideal school for me. The SU Clinical Performance Lab with its life-like, high fidelity mannequins offers excellent preparation. Additionally, the small class size in the cohort group provides students with a more personal learning experience and opportunities for collaboration. SU’s outstanding program will enable me to treat future immigrant families in a community health clinic and empower them to advocate for their health care rights.
What influenced your decision to pursue a career as an oncology nurse?
It’s not uncommon for people to trust spiritual healers over medical professionals in Nepal. Growing up, the only health care I knew was Spiritual Healing called shamanism. My oldest uncle had been battling gall bladder cancer, there were apparent changes in his appearance, comfort level, and behaviors such as giving up and having no hope of living despite his young age. He was going through a mental spiral of constant pain and confusion which led to a depressive state.
After his condition worsened, we had to rush him to the ER. The doctors were able to identify that he suffered from advanced gall bladder cancer. His liver and lymph nodes were already severely impacted, and cancer had spread everywhere. The attending physician also notified us that my uncle’s survival rate was very low and within the next three days he passed away. Therefore, I would like to become an oncology nurse after graduating from the nursing program at SU to provide caring and compassionate care to patients and their families and learn everything about cancer screening, cancer disease process, and subsequent cancer care available in the U.S. that allows people lead quality lives to the end.
What are your plans/career goals after you graduate?
In the future, after earning my BSN degree and gaining valuable clinical experience, I intend to return to Nepal and open primary health care clinics in remote areas to expand access to modern health care, annual check-ups, and cancer screening and care. I also intend to give back to my community by working in a public health clinic to benefit underserved populations and empower women to have control over their own health. As our population becomes increasingly more diverse, my intercultural knowledge will benefit the patients I serve in my community. I hope to become a mentor to other first-generation women of color to lift them up and encourage their success.
How will this scholarship help you to achieve your goals?
This scholarship will help me academically, financially and professionally. I come from a low-income household and tuition was a big stress when I first started at the BSN program. Despite receiving grants and financial aid there was still a huge gap in my tuition, and I was worried if I could really afford to study at SU. After receiving this award, I will be able to get the full college experience without the stress of tuition. I will also be able to better focus on my academics and aim for good grades. I am so blessed to be stepping into the oncology field and to learn and expand my knowledge. This scholarship has truly been a blessing to my career, my future and my present.