July 17, 2019

A childhood without health insurance provides inspiration

Susan Amina, one of Kaiser Permanente’s 2019 Extraordinary Nurse Award recipients, considers nursing a privilege.

Growing up without health insurance made Susan Amina value health and health care. This is why she became a nurse.

“If you don’t have your health, it compromises your life. I grew up poor and we were always careful not to get sick,” said Amina, who serves as both cancer care coordinator and nurse practitioner at Kaiser Permanente Moanalua in Hawaii. “I remember how difficult it was for my mother to pay the bill even if we had a minor injury. I got the sense then that health dictated a large part of your life.”

Amina has been a nurse since 1980 and has worked at Kaiser Permanente for 29 years.

Describe one of your most memorable moments as a nurse.

Once, I saw a woman for a routine wellness physical. She had depression and we spent some time talking about it. She was reluctant to seek care, but I encouraged her to seek help and stressed to her that the combination of medication and therapy may help. Several years later, I was working in a different building. A co-worker told me that, while I was out of the office, a woman saw my name on the door. The woman told my co-worker, “Tell Susan she saved my life. Years ago, I came in for a physical and I was really depressed. Susan talked to me about alleviating the stigma and seeing a counselor. If she hadn’t intervened, I may have done something drastic.” I never knew I had such an impact on her.

How does your work contribute to Kaiser Permanente’s efforts to transform health and health care?

I really try to focus on the whole person — not only physically, but also psychosocially and spiritually. I try to identify any financial barriers. As a cancer care coordinator, I also evaluate patients to determine the emotional impact of cancer. That is important in terms of overall health and can impact someone’s treatment journey. It’s important to not lose sight of the whole individual.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

When I was 5, our family went camping in the Adirondack Mountains during the summer and I climbed Mount Marcy, the highest point in New York state. There was an article about me being the youngest known person at that time to have climbed to the top of the largest mountain in the state. Climbing taught me perseverance.

My mom, who passed away earlier this year, was a really good role model. I credit her example with teaching me passion, compassion, and to do right by people.

What do you like most about being a nurse?

It’s a privilege to be a part of people’s lives. I am privy to people when they are at their most vulnerable and during the most difficult times. I am able to be there for a family. I value the sense of accomplishment I feel when I’m able to help improve the health of others. It is those times when I drive home at night, I feel like I made a difference.