Onna Lee embraces challenges, knowing the school is on her side
Written by Steve St. Angelo | Photo by Chris Hartlove
Fresh from a mid-semester exam, MSN (Entry into Nursing) student Onna Lee was only too happy to clear her head for a few moments, remembering back to when her Johns Hopkins School of Nursing experience actually began. It was with online prerequisites, naturally. But as much as that, and its No. 1 U.S. News & World Report ranking and global reputation, what had turned Lee toward Johns Hopkins and Baltimore was a kindness and sincerity she felt all the way to San Francisco.
On her smartphone, Lee, a registered dietitian, keeps images of the annual holiday cards sent by the school long before she was a student, and she clearly remains moved just by the sight of them. These were among the small, genuine gestures of caring that meant so much to an immigrant from Hong Kong considering a solo move across the country, to a profession she felt might give her the opportunity to make a more profound impact on health care.
The best part, she insists, is that three semesters into the Master’s Entry program, she has seen and felt the support of people at the school in person.
“I followed my heart and my passion,” Lee says of the journey to Johns Hopkins, one that had originally led her to the United States for schooling. “There are not many programs or support on nutrition education in Hong Kong. To become a registered dietitian, you need to go overseas for education.” She found it in the Bay Area, and worked at the University of California San Francisco and St. Mary’s Medical Center, a local community hospital. She quickly learned that “there is only so much you can do” as a registered dietitian, like assessments and education, Lee explains. “I was interested in more direct care of the person.”
I know I made the right decision. I don’t regret any of it.”
“The more I worked, the more opportunity I had to interact with nurses, so I could see what they do on a daily basis.” Watching nurses operate at the center of their health care teams made “a very big decision” to leave a sure thing in California much easier, if still scary. And the chance to explore another part of America was irresistible.
“Working in the health care field makes you realize that life is really short,” Lee explains. “Either do it, or you give up a great opportunity. I want to make each moment full.”
Currently, that means making the most of the master’s program and then starting as an acute care nurse as she continues toward her goal of becoming a nurse practitioner with a primary focus on oncology and palliative care. Lee gets back to Hong Kong every few years. She misses the family, friends, and food there, if not the hustle and bustle. But she has made a home in the U.S. and plans to continue her nursing career here.
And as another holiday season approaches, she feels confident in her studies, in her choice of schools, in the strides JHSON is making toward diversity—“It makes me comfortable to be here,” she says—and in the idea that the school doesn’t simply expect her to succeed. It is making sure that she does, and openly rooting for her. That’s a warm feeling.
Read more profiles from the “We Are All East Baltimore” series.