“One day I walked into the gynecology ward. There was a row of patients with cancer. I approached a lady, she was about to die. I helped her turn from one side to the other side. She looked at me and said, ‘Thank you.’ She was crying. Just turning a patient, it makes a difference. That moment I realized, I need to be a nurse.”
That was the life-changing moment for Nop Ratanasiripong, a registered nurse and assistant professor for the School of Nursing at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
On a full four-year scholarship and graduating with honors—in fact, ranking the highest among her peers within the major—Ratanasiripong earned a bachelor’s in nursing from Boromarajonani College of Nursing in Nakornratchasima, Thailand. She wondered whether continuing on to medical school to become a doctor as so many of her classmates were doing was what she wanted. Yet it was that encounter while providing care to end-of-stage cervical cancer patients that provided the answer—one she has not doubted since.
“I realized how much impact I can make on one person, instead of as a doctor just prescribing medication,” she recalled.
Equally passionate about health promotion, applied research and teaching, Ratanasiripong, who immigrated to the U.S. in 2000, has served in various roles in Thailand and America, including as a nurse, nursing educator, clinician, clinical educator, and as an administrator for the student health center at CSU Long Beach just prior to coming to CSU Dominguez Hills in August 2012 to teach and conduct research.
Modern technology makes it possible for her to do both this semester. Using Blackboard to interact with up to 25 students in each of the four online courses she is teaching gives Ratanasiripong the flexibility—like it also does for her students, some of whom are in Japan, Taiwan and South Africa—to concurrently conduct research and administer care in rural regions of Thailand.
When she returns to the campus in fall 2013 she will likely continue to teach online courses in combination with on-campus classes.
A certified clinical research coordinator through the Association of Clinical Medical Research Professionals, Ratanasiripong has been in Thailand since January coordinating a multi-site cross-sectional study assessing the mental health status of Thai college students.
“In Thai culture, going to see a psychologist is a shame thing. We don’t seek counseling. It’s a stigma,” the Thai native pointed out.
She and a research team of four, including her husband Paul, a licensed psychologist and a professor of advanced studies in education and counseling at CSU Long Beach, will be collecting data through June from 1,300 subjects in various regions in Thailand. The first research project of its kind in Thailand, Ratanasiripong hopes to share the findings of the study with the participating universities: Mahidol University, Bhurapa University, Payap University, Boromarajonani nursing college-Nakornratchasima, and Ratchaphat University-Chaiyapoom, as well as the Thai government.
“At least then they’ll know the general mental health status of this population,” she said. “We see the need to assess the population because students are the future.”
Ratanasiripong’s interest in mental health promotion and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention grew out of her initial professional interest in women’s health while she was an obstetrics and gynecological nurse.
“I realized that women’s health needs to start sooner than once they are in the hospital, when women already have HPV (Human Papillomavirus) or cervical cancer. It has to start earlier,” she asserted.
That’s when she decided to focus her nursing career in women’s health promotion.
While a graduate student in 2011 she received an American Nurses Foundation research grant made possible by the Clinton Foundation to conduct a study on college women’s knowledge of HPV and the HPV vaccine, and was selected as the Virginia Kelley Scholar, named in honor of former President Clinton’s late mother, who was a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
More recently, Ratanasiripong, who also has a matriarch in the family (her grandmother) who was a nurse, authored, “What college women know, think, and do about HPV/HPV vaccine,” an article which has been accepted for publication by the Vaccine Journal. Another article, “Concept Analysis of Attitudes,” is being reviewed by the Nursing Forum Journal.
However, after working in women’s health promotion for several years, she came to the conclusion that men were part of the equation, and decided to include men’s health in her research.
“Men are partly responsible for the increase in HPV or STDs, so now I’m planning to expand my study to include males in my population and focus on health promotion for both genders,” she said.
Funded with a $10,000 Faculty Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity Grant from the university, in fall 2013 Ratanasiripong will conduct a study, “What college men know, think, and do about HPV/HPV vaccine,” at CSU Dominguez Hills, with the goal of collecting data from more than 500 male students. The study proposal is currently in the approval process by the institutional review board.
In keeping with her interest in women’s health, especially as related to HPV, Ratanasiripong is in the initial fundraising phase for an HPV virus vaccination intervention program she hopes to launch at CSU Dominguez Hills in spring 2014.
Another cause close to her heart is bringing health services to Thailand’s neediest.
Since 2004 Ratanasiripong and her husband have been a part of an effort dubbed the Medical Psychosocial Educational Program. As a clinical director, she trains a small team of American doctors and nurses, as well as a psychologist and lay people, in how the Thai medical system works. The group travels every other year for two weeks to Thailand providing basic healthcare and blood pressure, diabetes, and blood sugar screenings to well over 1,000 low-income and poverty-stricken people.
“We provide treatment so the poor don’t have to go to the hospital and lose a day of work,” she said. “In Thailand, the hospital is far from rural areas. So, most people wouldn’t go to the hospital.”
The program has been so effective that the local government there sees the value of preventative care and now every six months sends a nurse to provide these services in the interim.
“One of my passions is to provide services to the poor, and that’s what I hope to continue to do,” Ratanasiripong said.
Undoubtedly, she will serve not only the poor but future nurses, as she prepares them to have the same level of concern for those in need of health care.