For those with cancer or other acute medical concerns, a diagnosis comes with a whole new vocabulary. Medical jargon can feel like a different language even for native English speakers, and for those who immigrated from elsewhere, understanding treatment options can be downright overwhelming.
Spalding University senior nursing student Valentina Nikic experienced these cultural challenges firsthand when her father, who fled Bosnia in the 1990s, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015. She said her parents often struggled to understand what the doctors and nurses were trying to tell them, and that they sometimes felt disrespected due to their cultural differences. Though her father is now cancer-free, the experience stayed with her.
“At a very young age, I noticed that doctor’s appointments and hospital visits were scarier for my parents because of the lack of translators, knowledge and comfort,” she said.
Sadly, this was not the first time Valentina endured the cancer diagnosis of a loved one. In late 2011, when Valentina was a junior at Presentation Academy in Louisville, a man who had been instrumental in helping the family get settled in Louisville after fleeing Bosnia—and had since become something of a father figure to Valentina and her three older siblings—was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He passed away within months.
“It was the first person I had lost in that way, and it happened so fast,” she said.
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But through that dark time, Valentina once again found a bright spot in the nurses who cared for her friend. She recalls their boundless compassion and small acts of kindness that helped ease some suffering—not just for their patient, but for his loved ones as well.
“They were here for his close friends and family members too,” Valentina said. “They turned something that was sad and scary into something a little better.”
Now, Valentina is using those difficult experiences to change the world for patients and their families by offering them the same kindness, support, and understanding that she appreciated.
“I want to be that person that reminds patients that they can overcome what they are going through, or, if they are coming to the end of their life, make their last few weeks a little better,” Valentina said.
Valentina, who will continue her job as a telemetry nurse at Norton Children’s Hospital upon graduation this spring, said that she credits her Spalding professors for not only teaching her the technical skills to provide expert nursing care, but also for reinforcing the importance of connecting with patients as well. As a transfer student from a larger nursing program, Valentina said she appreciates Spalding’s smaller class sizes, and the personal attention she has received from her professors.
“My professors have put an emphasis on the fact that compassion encompasses nursing,” Valentina said. “I want to fully acknowledge patients’ cultural differences and include their translators so that they completely understand their medical diagnosis and recommended courses of treatment. And if they don’t, I want them to feel comfortable enough to ask questions.”