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16 AAPI Nurses to Know for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated November 10, 2023
    We celebrate and recognize 16 men and women from the AAPI community who have made significant contributions to healthcare.

    Perseverance and pride mark Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May as we celebrate the men and women who have stood on the front lines during COVID-19. Unfortunately, the community is also battling a growing wave of anti-Asian sentiment spawned by the pandemic.

    The AAPI community is well represented in healthcare. Nearly 8.5% of healthcare workers are part of the AAPI community, compared to 6.8% of the population. The community has a rich heritage that has helped shape the history of the U.S. Countless stories and events have enriched America’s culture and strengthened its role as a global leader.

    May is a time for all Americans to actively recognize the impact the AAPI community has had on society and healthcare. This recognition should be carried throughout the year as well.

    On this page, we’ll highlight the accomplishments of 16 AAPI nurses who have significantly influenced healthcare and their community.

    16 AAPI Nurses Past and Present You Should Know

    The contributions of minority groups have historically been largely unrecognized and under-recorded. Yet, for a well-rounded view of nursing and healthcare, it is essential to acknowledge the accomplishments, highlight the resilience, and celebrate the enduring public service of the AAPI community.

    We chose the following AAPI nurses who have contributed to nursing through research, education, and patient care.

    1. Janejira Justine Chaiyasit

    Janejira Justine Chaiyasit is an assistant professor of nursing at Columbia University. She is a certified nurse practitioner in adult-gerontology. She received her bachelor’s in nursing, master of science in nursing (MSN), and doctorate in nursing from Columbia University School of Nursing. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Chaiyasit has a clinical practice. She focuses on disease prevention and management, health promotion, and episodic care.

    Her research focuses on anxiety, depression, family planning, and women’s health. As a nurse leader, she believes it is necessary to advocate for her patients and the Asian population. She uses her role to talk about discrimination and correct inaccurate information.

    2. An Dinh

    An Dinh is a Long Beach, California, resident and is employed through the VA Long Beach Healthcare System. She works on the palliative care team and has been honored with a DAISY Award for the care and compassion she shows her patients.

    Despite the frustration and stress of her patients’ families, she goes above and beyond what’s called for in her job. She graduated from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

    3. Kay Fukuda

    Kay Fukuda was a naval cadet nurse who was interned at Manzanar War Relocation Center in Eastern California during World War II. It was one of 10 internment camps where the U.S. incarcerated 110,000 Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

    Manzanar is now designated as a national historical site and described as an example of injustice.

    Little is known about Fukuda, who was photographed by Ansel Adams in 1943 when he was encouraged to visit and photograph the camps. Dorothea Lange had written to Adams about her experience photographing the camps. She had been assigned by the War Relocation Authority to document an upbeat and positive message from the internment camps.

    Touched by Lange’s words, he gained permission to photograph Manzanar to help show Japanese Americans as hard-working Americans who deserved the respect of other U.S. citizens.

    4. Anastacia Giron-Tupas

    Anastacia Giron-Tupas was born in Laoag, Ilocos Norte on August 24, 1890. She dedicated her career to advancing nursing in the Philippines and globally. She believed nurses were a powerful tool to improve the general welfare of the population.

    Giron-Tupas overcame barriers and modeled traits that are associated with current nursing leadership. She advocated for the nursing profession and supported interdisciplinary education.

    She is known as the “Dean of Philippine Nursing.” Through her tireless efforts, the University of Pennsylvania School of Public Health Nursing became a premier nursing school. She was responsible for developing the first bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) curriculum.

    Giron-Tupas recorded many of the changes to nursing in the Philippines in her book, “History of Nursing in the Philippines.” She died in 1972 at age 82.

    5. Li Hong

    Li Hong graduated with her MSN in nursing informatics from the University of Texas at Arlington. She was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal in 2019. She was the only Chinese recipient of the award, which was given to 29 nurses worldwide. The award is given to nurses who demonstrate exemplary service or innovation in public health or nursing education.

    She is a fellow with the American Academy of Nursing, with specialty training in disaster relief and public health nursing. She currently is the manager of clinical research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

    6. Aiko Hamaguchi

    Aiko Hamaguchi was a second nurse photographed in 1943 by Ansel Adams in the Manzanar War Relocation Center. She appears on no academic databases, and there is no further biography of her on the Internet.

    Under the executive order of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, the secretary of war was authorized to relocate and detain Japanese Americans, 60% of whom were American citizens.

    There was no push to incarcerate Germans or Italians during the same period, even though the U.S. was also fighting them during WWII.

    Families were forced to get rid of their property and private belongings over just a few days before moving to relocation centers. Living conditions were deplorable, and detained healthcare workers were pressed into service to care for those in the camps.

    By December 1944 when the internment ended, 1,800 had lost their lives and $400 million in property is estimated to have been lost. To put this in perspective, this would be $6.6 billion in 2022.

    7. Eun-Ok Im

    Eun-Ok Im has served on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and University of Texas at Austin before joining Emory University in 2019. She is currently the senior associate dean for research and innovation at Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory. She has two master’s degrees, one in public health and an MSN from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She later completed her doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing from UCSF in 1997.

    In January 2020, she became the president of the AAPI Nurses Association. She is gaining national and international recognition as a theorist in international cross-cultural women’s health. Im has published over 370 papers and presented at over 320 international and national multidisciplinary conferences.

    8. Rose Lim Luey

    Rose Lim Luey is a child of Chinese immigrants. She graduated from the Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing in 1951 as one of the first Chinese American students. She raised three children and was honored as Oakland’s 1972 Mother of the Year. When her children were grown, she returned to public health nursing, using her bilingual skills to help care for Chinese Americans.

    She prioritized her volunteer efforts throughout her career, helping Vietnamese immigrants relocate and providing them healthcare services. She was a founding member of Asian Health Services and volunteered for 20 years with the American Red Cross. In 2017, at the age of 87, she was the first in a series of oral histories from Samuel Merritt University Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

    9. Carol Manilay-Robles

    Carol Manilay-Robles was nominated and honored with the DAISY Award in 2013. This award is given internationally to nurses who treat their patients and family with care and compassion.

    The ABP Family Council nominated Manilay-Robles to recognize her tireless work at the ABP Health Center. They cite her model leadership and patient care. She is on the executive board of the Philippine Nurses Association of Metro DC, where she’s held several positions, including treasurer and communications and marketing.

    10. Maginia Sajise Morales

    Maginia Sajise Morales arrived in the U.S. in 1977 from the Philippines after graduating from nursing school. She enlisted in the Army in 1985 and was commissioned as a first lieutenant. She served four years in a reserve unit before pursuing active duty nursing in 1989.

    Her first assignment was on a burn unit in San Antonio, Texas, where she earned her MSN at the same time. Her first overseas deployment was in 1994 with the 95th Combat Support Hospital and later with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH).

    The 212th MASH unit was assigned to Bosnia, where she served as chief of critical care. After returning to the U.S., she led the intensive care department at William Madigan Army Medical Center and earned the rank of major.

    In January 2004, she was deployed to Iraq but returned in February due to illness. She was reassigned to William Beaumont Army Medical Center, where she stayed until retiring in November 2004. She was honored by the Army as a “Veteran of the Day” in March 2019.

    11. Mary Frances Oneha

    Mary Frances Oneha has served Native Hawaiian communities for over 20 years. She earned her MSN from the University of Washington and was the first Native Hawaiian to earn a Ph.D. Her community-based research focuses on understanding Native Hawaiian health issues.

    She joined Waimānalo Health Center in 2012 as the chief executive officer. One of her initiatives has been integrating Native Hawaiian culture throughout the organization.

    She also serves on the Institutional Review Board of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations. Oneha was recognized in 2013 as the White House AAPI Woman Champion of Change and was an American Academy of Nursing fellow.

    12. Donna-Marie Palakiko

    Donna-Marie Palakiko, Ph.D., APRN, is a Native Hawaiian nurse. She was the first to be hired in a tenure track at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene. Palakiko received the 2022 Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholarship from the Australian American Fulbright Commission. She also received a $60,000 grant from the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation’s Robert C. Perry Fund.

    Palakiko spent more than 20 years as a community health nurse, healthcare administrator, and nurse researcher. Before joining the faculty in 2019, she worked as a researcher. Her focus was on developing lifestyle interventions for Hawaiian and Pacific Island people.

    13. Vivian Sanderlin

    Vivian Sanderlin is chair of The Philippine Nurses Association of San Diego (PNASD) and leader in the PNASD’s COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force. She is one of the growing Filipino leaders who have spoken out during the COVID pandemic.

    She was the 42nd president of the PNASD from 2016-2018. She worked to raise the standards of student nurses and focused on community service. Sanderlin has also advocated for the vaccination of the Association’s members and strives to support her community.

    14. Julita Villaruel Sotejo

    Born in 1906, Julita Villaruel Sotejo is credited with developing the model of nursing education used in the Philippines. She graduated nursing school as valedictorian of her class in 1929 and then as valedictorian at Philippine Law School.

    She was the principal of the Philippine General Hospital School of Nursing until 1941, when she accepted a scholarship to study at Yale University School of Nursing, among other schools. She graduated with a master’s degree in nursing administration from the University of Chicago.

    She spoke about racial injustice and advocated for representation in education. She earned a doctorate in law at the age of 85. Sotejo died in 2003 at age 97, having explored the boundaries of nursing and leaving a legacy of education and bold nurses.

    15. Zenei Triunfo-Cortez

    Zenei Triunfo-Cortez is a registered nurse who is serving as one of three presidents of the National Nurses United (NNU) and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee. The NNU has more than 175,000 members and is the largest union and professional association of nurses in U.S. history. The organization was founded in 2009 to counter nursing standards and patient care conditions.

    Triunfo-Cortez has worked tirelessly to inspire nurses from the Philippines, a critical role during the pandemic when many have faced racist challenges while caring for patients. In her role at the NNU, she has been an outspoken advocate for change in the current healthcare system.

    Triunfo-Cortez was honored in 2019 by the AFL-CIO during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

    16. Yu (Philip) Xu

    Yu Xu was also known as Phillip. He was born in 1961 in Zheng Zhou, China, and he arrived in the U.S. in 1991 to complete his Ph.D. in education at the State University of New York in Buffalo. He then attended a community college in Alabama, where he earned his associate in nursing. This was quickly followed by an MSN in community and public health nursing from the University of South Alabama.

    From 1999 to his death at age 52 in 2013, he published 56 research reports and peer-reviewed articles on transition, adaptation, and integration of international nurses into the U.S. healthcare system. Before his cancer diagnosis, he directed the Ph.D. program in nursing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

    He served as the president of the AAPI Nurses Association from 2012 until his death in 2013.