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Haslett grad lands spot on Forbes '30 Under 30' list for health care

Lansing State Journal logo Lansing State Journal 1/7/2021 Craig Lyons, Lansing State Journal
a woman smiling for the camera: Kristen Choi, a Haslett High School graduate, psychiatric nurse and assistant professor at the University of California Los Angeles, was named on Forbes' "30 Under 30" list for health care. © Courtesy of Kristen Choi Kristen Choi, a Haslett High School graduate, psychiatric nurse and assistant professor at the University of California Los Angeles, was named on Forbes' "30 Under 30" list for health care.

LANSING – A Haslett High School graduate's work on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic earned her a coveted spot on Forbes' "30 Under 30" list.

Kristen Choi, 29, who graduated in 2010, was named to Forbes’ list in the health care field. The honor recognized Choi, a psychiatric nurse and assistant professor at the University of California Los Angeles, for her contributions to health care through her work and research on children’s mental health.

Choi is the first nurse to make it on the list.

“A lot of nurses are not recognized in venues like Forbes for the work they do,” she said.

Choi has a bachelor's in nursing from the University of Michigan, a master's in health policy and management from UCLA and a Ph.D. in nursing from Michigan.

Nurses are the largest group in the health care sector and play a critical role in patient care but often don’t get the same level of recognition as doctors and researchers, Choi said.

During the COVID pandemic, Choi has seen the daily stresses it has created for her patients and on the medical system. She's hoping she can become a leader in health care so the field takes the lessons it has learned and begins to innovate.

“A lot of innovation in health care comes from nurses,” she said.

Nurses, doctors can show COVID-19 vaccine works

One of Choi’s most recent publications was an article for doctors and nurses on how they can talk to patients about the COVID vaccine, educate them on the effects and what they can expect after getting the vaccine.

Choi wrote it from firsthand knowledge as she enrolled in the trials for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Choi said she felt it was important as a nurse and educator to use her own experience to educate people about the vaccine.

a close up of a bottle: The first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, at Sparrow Hospital. © Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal The first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, at Sparrow Hospital.

While she had no issues with the first dose of the vaccine, Choi said she had a strong reaction to the second dose. She had a fever, chills, and muscle pain but said she knew those were signals the vaccine was working.

Choi said she’s worked in flu vaccination clinics and, like many health care professionals, hasn’t taken enough time to explain all the side effects and what people should expect. She said that can’t be the case with the COVID-19 vaccine.

“With this vaccine, it’s very important we do this,” she said.

More: 'We could do more': How COVID vaccination is progressing in Greater Lansing

Doctors and nurses can be examples for people and show them the vaccine is safe and effective, Choi said. People are wary of the vaccine but do trust their medical providers' advice, she said.

Pandemic exposed ‘huge gaps’ in health system

The public health system is piecemeal and the pandemic showed that it needs to become more organized, especially when dealing with a health crisis, Choi said. Public health is underfunded and many people still lack access to health care, she said.

“There are huge gaps,” Choi said.

Aside from systemic challenges, health systems began running out of personal protective equipment and didn’t have enough of the medical equipment needed to care for patients with the virus, she said.

More: 'We're bursting at the seams.' Lansing nurses, already drained, are anxious about COVID-19 surge

Once the pandemic is under control, the health care system can look at improving its model moving forward, Choi said.

Choi said she’s seen in the mental health field examples of how people can start innovating and better serving patients. Mental health professionals saw a profound need from patients during the pandemic and they had to figure out how to reach them, she said.

Text messaging, websites, apps and video visits all made mental health care more accessible to people who need it and removed the stigma for seeking treatment, Choi said.

“That is an exciting thing to come out of what has been a really dark pandemic,” she said.

a person holding a cell phone: Before clocking out, Sparrow intensive care unit nurse Zachary Babcock, right, reviews patient charts with incoming nurse Tessa Huovinen on Wednesday evening, Oct. 21, 2020, at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing. © Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal Before clocking out, Sparrow intensive care unit nurse Zachary Babcock, right, reviews patient charts with incoming nurse Tessa Huovinen on Wednesday evening, Oct. 21, 2020, at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.

Attracting, retaining nursing candidates key

The pandemic exposed the huge lack of nurses across the country and that’s only getting worse, Choi said. Nursing education must soon scale up to attract and retain new nurses.

“There is a very long-standing shortage of nurses in the U.S.,” Choi said.

Nursing schools turn away thousands of qualified nursing applicants each year, Choi said. That’s driven by not enough nursing professors or faculty to teach those classes, which creates a bottleneck for people wanting to get into the field, she said.

Even many hospitals don’t have good models to integrate education into their programming, she said.

If there’s not change at the university or hospital level, they won’t be able to recruit new nurses to fill the vacancies created by retirements or those who quit, Choi said.

Choi said she’s passionate about nursing education and much of the innovation in health care comes from nurses’ vantage points.

“Nurses are the ones that really see the problems in the system and problems with patients,” she said.

Contact reporter Craig Lyons at 517-377-1047 or calyons@lsj.comFollow him on Twitter @craigalyons.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Haslett grad lands spot on Forbes '30 Under 30' list for health care

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