Former Refugee Embraces Challenge and Service in Nursing Program

Former Refugee Embraces Challenge and Service in Nursing Program

By Jess Clarke

When Pabitra Bhattarai decided at a young age that she wanted to be a nurse, it wasn’t because she had nurses as role models. It was just the opposite for Bhattarai, a first-year nursing student at Norwich.

Bhattarai grew up in a Nepalese refugee camp, after her parents and thousands of other Nepali-speaking Bhutanese settled there after they were expelled from Bhutan in the early 1990s due to ethnic and religious intolerance.

The experience exposed Bhattarai to many hardships, including the deaths of relatives and many others.

Many of the camp’s health care problems Bhattarai attributes to a lack of education about disease prevention and healthy diets and the dearth of resources to seek treatment beyond the camp.

“Seeing hundreds of people dying from simple illnesses and diseases made me very upset,” Bhattarai says. “Facing these kinds of challenges that happened in my home and around the community really inspired me to pursue a career in nursing. I know the value of education and how it can impact your life. When I become a nurse, I hope to give back to my community, because I care about people’s values, struggles, and quality of life.”

Bhattarai’s fortunes improved significantly when she and her family moved to Burlington, Vt., in 2009. Transitioning from a hut with a thatched roof and rationed food to a new language and culture in Vermont was difficult, but she graduated from Burlington High School in 2013. Her family was featured in a recent Seven Days article.

Her interest in nursing was enhanced by an internship she had in the summer after her junior year of high school through CollegeQuest, a residential program promoting health careers for Vermont high school students.

The transformation in Bhattarai’s life continues as a student at Norwich, where she appreciates helpful professors and fellow nursing students. She enjoys her courses, gets along well with her roommate, and loves the mountains.

An awareness of the advantages she has that her parents didn’t motivates Bhattarai at Norwich and in other aspects of her life.

“I want to try everything that could help me to strengthen my academic skills,” she says “I don’t get scared of trying new things. I love challenging tasks, because they will either make me succeed or help me do better next time. This is how we can learn new things.”

Bhattarai also is learning new things through the Norwich tradition of serving others. In the after-school Bridges program at Northfield Elementary School, she works with children to improve their skills.

Her service work started in high school with various community projects. She now is an interpreter for the Burlington-based Association of Africans Living in Vermont, which helps new Americans from countries outside Africa, too.

It was Bhattarai’s recent participation in Emerge Vermont, a program that trains women interested in public office, that changed how she sees the world and showed her that she can transform the lives of others as well as her own.

“I learned about the many ways I can advocate for the people who can’t speak for themselves,” she says. “I learned so much in the program about how I can make a difference in the world.”