Changing Attitudes

Story by Kyle DeVries 

Like the drive that inspires students everywhere to study nursing, some things are innate, inexplicable. Something one understands about themselves and their greater purpose. For Pam Akihiro, a 1966 graduate of Burge School of Nursing, this purpose was to answer God’s call to go to Africa as a missionary. The strict laws prohibiting missionaries from entering the country of Eritrea in Northwest Africa was an obstacle, sure, but one that could be overcome. After all, Pam was a nurse, and nurses are nothing if not innovative when it comes to problem solving.

So Pam entered the country as a nursing instructor. And in doing so, found herself face-to-face with local attitudes that would seem somewhat archaic to modern, Western sensibilities. “In 2001, being a nurse in Africa was comparable to being a nurse in 1960’s United States,” Pam said. That is to say, nurses were viewed as little more than doctor’s assistants with limited medical knowledge. Their opinions were not respected.

The nursing vocation itself is still in the process of overcoming stereotypes all over the world—one primary stereotype, at least in the United States, that nursing is a woman’s field. Pam encountered this exact attitude while in Africa, when a doctor, in the midst of praising Pam’s students, lamented the fact that her class was mostly comprised of men. Men who would be harder to control than women, as they “seem to have a mind of their own.”

Again, where others might have seen an obstacle, Pam saw opportunity to change this culture. She knew full well that nurses were beyond qualified to make their own decisions. The conversation with this doctor became one of her brightest teaching moments—a moment in which she knew she had to impart how valuable they were to the health care system. Nurses, she stressed, are not servants. They are qualified, educated professionals, worthy of their own thoughts and judgments.

Pam Akihiro showed incredible perseverance and courage in the midst of vast challenges to fulfill her calling. After spending seven years in Africa, imparting wisdom and a sense of worth to leagues of nurses, she spent time in Mexico as a missionary, working with the urban poor community. Today, Pam continues to lead by example, working as a clinical instructor at Florissant Valley Community College in St. Louis.