Posted on Jul. 17, 2014 (
Vanessa Runo, 17, walks out the back door of her Lakewood home with a smile as wide as the African continent from which she hails.
She has donned green nurse scrubs, brightly colored sneakers and a lanyard displaying her name — the uniform she will wear to next week’s MultiCare Nurse Camp — and her enthusiasm is palpable.
“I’m very grateful for getting chosen, I’m very appreciate of that,” Vanessa says, smiling big again. “I won’t disappoint.”
Now in its 11th year, Nurse Camp is a highly competitive program that gives high school students real-life experiences about what it takes to work in health care. The camp will take place at all five MultiCare Health System hospitals from July 21 to 25.
Vanessa, one of 118 students who beat out hundreds more for a spot, has long aspired to become a pediatric doctor or nurse.
“Since I was five, I’ve always been interested in hospitals and doctors, ERs and ambulances,” she says, referring to her early childhood in her native Nairobi. “I just like the rush and the whole hospital environment, and I love helping people.”
It would be a mistake to interpret her joy as frivolity. When it comes to her chosen career path, Vanessa is deadly serious. So serious that her mother, upon seeing her daughter’s single-minded passion, organized their migration to the United States and eventual citizenship.
“My mom brought me here for educational purposes. In order for me to achieve my doctor dreams, it was better for me to come here and start here,” Vanessa says.
She talks about her mother, Mary Njoroge, with devotion and gratitude. Mary has worked as a caregiver to pay for her daughter’s schooling in Kenya and here, and making restitution is part of Vanessa’s drive.
“I want to give back to my mom for her working so hard to put me through private school — all my life, basically,” she says. “I don’t want it to go to waste. I want her to be proud of me.”
In trying to identify the life events that have influenced her to become a health care professional, Vanessa talks a lot about reality medical TV shows she has binge-watched over the years. There also was the time her mother had to call 911 because Vanessa was suffering disconcerting heart palpitations and required paramedics to take her to hospital.
“Even though I was going through problems, it was very exciting — I’m not going to lie,” Vanessa says, laughing, her attraction to health care commotion surfacing once more.
Vanessa attends Bellarmine Preparatory High School in Tacoma. She has identified four colleges in California where she can undertake pre-medical studies.
Cara Koch, nurse program coordinator in the MultiCare Center for Healthy Living and coordinator of this year’s camp, says Vanessa possesses an impressive desire and aptitude for health care that make her a future leader in the field.
“She also speaks two languages, Swahili and English, so she’s able to reach some of our clientele that is non-English speaking,” Cara says. “And she has an international background, so she has an appreciation for people from different cultures. That’s really important when you’re going into a service role within the health care industry.”
Between now and the long path to a medical degree, there is Nurse Camp.
Vanessa says she is counting down the days and thinks the experience will clarify what it will be like to work in a hospital. She hopes to observe an operation, even though she has heard it makes some students feel sick.
“I feel like I can take it,” Vanessa says. “On TV, they do show you the whole thing, the blood, the intestines and procedures, so I feel like it will nothing new to me. I don’t know, maybe I will get freaked out a bit, but I’ll get over it, because it’s something I want to do.”