How Osmosis Scholarship Winner Sarah Phan Will Have Your Back as a Future Nurse Practitioner
Published on Dec 21, 2020. Updated on Dec 27, 2020.
We’re pleased to shine a spotlight on Osmosis’s caring community of future health professionals this week with interviews with all six of our 2020 Osmosis Health Education Impact Scholarship winners! Today, meet winner Sarah Phan, a Nurse Practitioner student at Columbia University School of Nursing who showed us how she plans to embody the Osmosis value of “Have Each Other’s Backs”in her clinical practice. Check out Ashly’s full video on our scholarship page, or scroll down to the bottom of this article to watch it!
How did you hear about the Osmosis Health Education Impact Scholarship?
I first heard about the scholarship opportunity when I was browsing through videos on the Osmosis YouTube channel into the late hours, most likely cramming for an exam the night before like I usually do. I watched the informational video about the scholarship, and I decided to learn more about it on the Osmosis website.
What was your Osmosis Scholarship application process like?
Initially, I was very hesitant to apply for this scholarship for a couple of reasons: one, I was unsure if I had a fighting chance among many other qualified health profession students, and two, the application requires a video component, and I am not the greatest at speaking in public or even to myself in front of a camera alone in my room. I eventually mustered enough courage to take my chances, and I am so thankful that I did!
I enjoyed answering the questions in the written portion of the application because it forced me to analyze the impact I have as a health profession student and future health care provider. However, the video portion was a challenge that many lifetimes could not prepare my awkward self for and will continue to make me cringe from embarrassment whenever I think about the process. I was trying my very best to channel all my favorite social media influencers, who make vlogging look so effortless and straightforward.
After a million and one takes later, I realized I needed to channel more of myself and who I am instead of fabricating a YouTube vlogger personality. Was I eventually happy with the final product? Not necessarily... but hearing myself say my accomplishments and talking about my journey in nursing out loud was incredibly validating and, to some extent, therapeutic!
Overall, I am happy that I did not allow my imposter syndrome to keep me from throwing my hat into the ring. Thank you, Osmosis, for pushing me out of my comfort zone!
It’s clear that you embody the value of Have Each Other’s Backs, but if you had to choose another Osmosis Value, which one would you pick, and why?
If I had to choose another Osmosis value, I would pick “Reach Further,” which also ties into my reason for embodying the value of “Have Each Other’s Backs.”
The idea of settling for less never sits well with me when I am capable of more. To me, reaching further means doing more for society and striving for the absolute best to better our community, especially as health care providers. I believe that health is a human right, and we must continue to reach further until this idea becomes a reality because every patient deserves to reach their full health potential now more than ever.
My vision of reaching further involves dedicating my platform as a nurse to advocate for health equity. I want to eventually be involved in health policy to address hardships inflicted upon vulnerable communities by social issues such as food insecurity, inadequate housing, poor quality education, and the chronic stress of living in poverty.
I know this may seem like a tall order to fill, but I believe we owe it to our patients and community to reach as far as we possibly can.
Can you speak a bit more about your experiences of the front lines during COVID-19 and also during this year’s protests against racial injustice? How have these situations impacted your perspective on healthcare?
At the time, my classmates and I did not expect that we would be spending the rest of our spring semester working at the hospitals during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. We were looking forward to the integration portion of our master’s program, where we would work one-to-one with a nurse full-time, but integration was abruptly cancelled as new cases surged around the world. Instead, our faculty devised an amazing opportunity for students to assist at the frontlines as “nurse technicians” and/or “temperature screeners.”
I had the privilege of taking on the role as a nurse technician at the NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital in the hematology/oncology unit. The patients I worked with had virtually no immune protection and were battling cancer or a severe blood disorder. These children were extremely vulnerable, so rather than worrying about possibly contracting the virus from patients, I was more worried about accidentally passing the virus to them. PPE supply became scarce so quickly that staff began hiding the remaining gloves, masks, and N95s in locked containers and storage rooms.
Visitor policy at the children’s hospital was very strict, as it should be, permitting only one visitor to stay with each patient. I witnessed the immense toll this took on patients and their parents or caregivers. I have listened to mothers sobbing about not being able to visit the hospital at all because they were worried about catching something on the subway and accidentally giving it to their immunocompromised child.
The worries that these parents had are completely valid. COVID-19 was quite literally everywhere in New York City. I saw neighbors being escorted by EMS in full hazmat suits into the ambulance while I was walking to work, and I saw patients being rushed into the hospital when I arrived. Despite everything that was going on in the world, I was able to find moments filled with hope from the daily 7 PM applause throughout the city to patients ringing the “chemo bell” as tradition after completing their treatment and the silly Fortnite dance battles that patients challenged me to. The resilience of these children, the diligent nurses and staff, and their ability to smile through it all will forever inspire me to become the best nurse practitioner I can be.
In regards to the racial injustices that plague our country, the streets of New York City became restless and continue to be restless in wake of the unjust killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, and so many more innocent Black lives. Despite what the media had depicted, many of the protests that took place were peaceful, nonviolent, and even followed CDC guidelines as closely as possible in a mass gathering. We kept our distance, wore masks, and kept one other safe by passing out masks, hand sanitizers, food, water, and legal or medical resources. We marched on the streets on sunny days and through the pouring rain, successfully amplifying Black voices without escalating the situation to violence.
Uplifting the Black community is and should be empowering to all White and non-Black people of color, as it has always been Black activists at the forefront, fighting for the civil rights that we all enjoy today. However, the injustices that the Black community face is not unique to police brutality. It is present in almost every aspect of our lives, especially in healthcare.
Participating in this ongoing movement has made it clear to me that it is our responsibility as future health care providers to unlearn our implicit biases and dismantle the systemic racism within the health care system that prevents Black patients from obtaining access to quality care and achieving longer lifespans. I urge my peers and colleagues to inform themselves, work as allies, and contribute to the ongoing efforts of BLM because all lives can't matter until Black lives matter.
More information on how to contribute to the movement can be found here: www.blacklivesmatters.carrd.co
What have your experiences been like as a mentor? Who is your mentor, and what did they teach you that you’re imparting to your own mentees?
My experience as a mentor has been nothing short of humbling. I view mentorship as a two-way street because my mentees have just as much to teach me as I have to teach them. It is easy for me to get caught up in my own life and the stressors that surround it, but it is my mentees who keep me grounded. I am deeply inspired by their motivation to achieve their academic and career goals despite the obstacles that life throws at them.
Most of my mentees come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are the first (or will become the first) in their family to graduate from college, and it is an incredible honor to be able to have any amount of influence in cultivating a college culture for them. Their hard work and resilience inspire me to push myself every day so that they can continue to see themselves within their mentor—that it is possible to rise above adversity and succeed. I could not be any prouder of my mentees for how far they have come.
I do not have any formal mentors of my own, but I consider many of the people who helped shape my career goals and aspirations as my mentors. Rosauro, a former AmeriCorps member, affirmed my passions to serve the underserved and work in community health. Renowned physicians like Dr. Jain and Dr. Aasi, who oversaw my work as a medical assistant, have taught me the grit, tenacity, and perseverance I need to succeed in the demanding field of healthcare.
Lastly, brilliant nurses like my former coworker, Heather, and my pediatric clinical instructor, Alyson, laid out the foundation for me to become the best and most compassionate nurse I can be. These are the values my mentors have instilled in me that I hope to impart to my own mentees.
If you could do one thing different on your journey to NP school, what would you change?
If I could go back in time and change one thing about my journey to NP school, I would expose myself to the rewarding experience and boundless opportunities that the field of nursing has to offer much earlier on in my life.
Growing up, I had a very rigid idea of what nurses are and the responsibilities they have. I did not know at the time the amazing career opportunities and mobilization that nursing had to offer—that there is so much more to this field than bedside nursing, which I also learned is a highly respectable and demanding job. Had I realized early on that nurses are truly the backbone of health care, I would have earned a bachelor of science in nursing rather than majoring in something else and later going into a master’s program for non-nurses. It would have saved me a lot of time and headache, but I do not regret taking my time to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
How does it feel to have won an Osmosis Health Education Impact Scholarship? Anyone you want to shout-out or give thanks to?
I feel incredibly lucky to be announced as one of the winners of the Osmosis Health Education Impact Scholarship! It’s definitely one of the best news I received in 2020. Winning this scholarship validates everything I have been working for and that my values as a future health care provider matter. I really doubted my chances of winning this scholarship, but this reaffirms my ability to exceed my own expectations.
I am grateful to the Osmosis staff for giving my story a spotlight, as I am sure that many can relate to my experience as a first-generation student of color. I would like to give a special shout-out to my partner, Andrew. He is the only person who knew about me applying for this scholarship and the first person to know about my win. He is also the person who introduced me to Osmosis. Thank you, Andrew, for your everlasting support and not questioning why I locked myself in a room for hours to talk to myself in front of a camera.
How has COVID-19 impacted your studies, and what advice do you have for students navigating these circumstances?
COVID-19 has impacted my studies in unprecedented ways. I was hoping to call New York City my home for at least a few years, but now I am learning remotely from thousands of miles away. I had to refigure out my housing situation and adjust my study habits to a learning environment that I was completely unfamiliar with. It has been stressful and incredibly hard to focus on my studies. This pandemic has taught me that I have greatly taken in-person learning for granted, but I am gradually learning every day how to cope during these uncertain times.
My biggest advice for students navigating these circumstances is to remember to be patient, kind, and forgiving towards yourself. I would say to them that you are not going through this alone, and this is a huge teaching moment for everyone, including instructors. It is okay to feel how you are feeling right now.
I highly encourage everyone to take advantage of the mental health services offered by their institutions, local clinics, and national resources available at their disposal. I cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining mental health hygiene in a time of crisis. I can personally vouch for the benefits of therapy, for it has helped me cope effectively throughout quarantine.
I would also tell students to remember to take breaks, have a daily routine, stay connected with those you love, and not give up. I can honestly say that I had many thoughts about dropping out or deferring my NP school acceptance. The future seemed increasingly bleak, and I considered working full-time as an RN until things made more sense. However, I thought about my mentees, mentors, and loved ones and how hard they are working right now to hold their own. I also revisited my nursing school applications to remind myself why I wanted to pursue this career in the first place. I then realized that I have come too far in life to quit now.
Our country needs RN’s, NP’s, PA’s, and physicians now more than ever. They are counting on students like us to successfully complete our studies and help save lives.
Sarah Phan is a first-year DNP student at Columbia University School of Nursing in the city of New York, where she will specialize in pediatric primary care. Sarah is passionate about community health and bringing access to care in medically underserved areas. Before NP school, she obtained clinical experience in multiple entry-level positions such as EMT, medical scribe, medical assistant, and clinical research assistant. Her hobbies include camping, reading, drawing, stress-baking, and petting other people’s dogs. Fun fact: Sarah taught herself how to cut her own hair, which became an extremely useful skill during quarantine!
Interested in applying for the Osmosis Health Education Impact Scholarship? As part of the process, we ask for a video telling us how you plan to embody one of the six Osmosis values in your clinical practice. You just might win one of six scholarships on offer: one $5,000 prize and five $1,000 scholarships are available. Applications will reopen in 2021!