Heritage helps BSN graduate Amina Muhando blossom and learn at UMSL

by | Jun 8, 2020

Now a nurse on the cardiology floor at Barnes Jewish Hospital, Muhando built leadership skills as president of the Pan-African Student Association.
This spring Amina Muhando graduated from the UMSL College of Nursing with her BSN. She's now a nurse on the cardiology floor at Barnes Jewish Hospital. (Photos courtesy of Amina Muhando.)

This spring Amina Muhando graduated from the UMSL College of Nursing with her BSN. She’s now a nurse on the cardiology floor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. (Photos courtesy of Amina Muhando)

Becoming a student nurse tech on the cardiology floor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital was the catalyst that made everything click for Amina Muhando.

The BSN student had enrolled at the University of Missouri­–St. Louis determined to be a nurse. Though she was a good student in high school, the sciences weren’t her strong suit. She knew that figuring out how to study for the notoriously heavy load of nursing school was going to be a challenge.

She worked hard through that and grew as a person and a student. But she still felt shy around patients and a bit uncertain.

Her work in the hospital changed everything.

“It was one of the best things that happened to me as a nursing student,” Muhando said. “I’ve learned so much. I’ve met some of the most amazing nurses.

“The clinical skills that you learn in nursing school are one at one time and having a way to apply them to an outlet as a student nurse tech helped me to understand how to apply the knowledge that I learn in class. I got to learn different lab values that are important to patient care. I got to see the everyday workflow of different nurses and how they work together to make the day flow well.”

After graduating from the College of Nursing this month, she is taking the confidence and knowledge she gained as a student nurse tech right back to the same floor as a full-fledged nurse. Her work there has changed recently as the cardiology floor morphed into a coronavirus floor for patients with moderate cases of COVID-19.

Though initially nervous about working directly with coronavirus patients, Muhando quickly overcame her anxiety and is happy to be able to be making a difference.

Muhando has been working with coronavirus patience since the cardiology floor was converted earlier this year.

Muhando has been working with coronavirus patience since the cardiology floor was converted earlier this year.

“It’s one thing to be on the outside looking in and another to be in the hospital working through the scene,” she said. “Family members can’t visit, so nurses have an even bigger role now to maintain that link between families and being advocates for patients and making sure they are being taken care of with compassion.”

One person that remains a bit anxious ­– understandably –­ about her work is her mother.

Though Muhando doesn’t let that come between her and her calling, she considers family to be paramount. Her heritage – as a first-generation student, a Muslim and a Kenyan immigrant – persisted as important factors throughout her journey at UMSL to become a nurse.

Muhando’s family immigrated to the St. Louis area when she was 7. Though her elder brother went to Saint Louis University, neither one of their parents had attended college, and they were unable to guide Muhando through the college process.

While some of her peers had made college decisions during their junior years, Muhando found herself still undecided her senior year. An excellent guidance counsellor suggested UMSL and the College of Nursing. That made sense to Muhando, who was familiar with the profession thanks to a family friend’s daughter, Katie, who was an emergency room nurse.

Another plus for UMSL was its proximity to her home.

“I had to find a school close to me because I’m African, I’m Muslim, I’m an African Muslim girl,” she said. “I can’t leave and go to a college out of state and live there with a roommate or be in a dorm with someone that I had never met before, so I had to find a college to go back and forth.”

Commuting from home worked well for Muhando, and it didn’t stop her from becoming involved on campus, making a solid group of friends and building ties with faculty and other mentors.

She was not only a member of the Minority Student Nurses Association but also very involved with the Pan-African Student Association. She first served as the organization’s Student Government Association representative and graphic designer then as its president this year.

Fellow nursing student and past-PAA President Livinia Yale proved to be a great friend and mentor for Muhando.

“I got to see the inner workings of how to plan an event, how to recruit new members and all that fun stuff,” she said. “Being in Pan Africa helped me get the tools to be a leader.”

The student organization also gave Muhando a venue to educate fellow students on what it meant to be an African Muslim and to correct misconceptions about her heritage.

“Sometimes people think unless you’re of Arabic descent or from a Middle Eastern country or unless you converted that you can’t be Muslim,” she said. “But I was born Muslim.”

In her capacity as graphic designer, Muhando created the design for PAA’s International Hijab Day fliers and helped show fellow UMSL students how to wrap the headscarves and took photos. Unfortunately, the pandemic derailed some of her plans for the organization last semester.

Throughout her time at UMSL, Muhando balanced her involvement with student organizations with academics. She found mentors in Success Coach Antoinette Sterling, Student Success and Retention Coordinator Tiffany Izard-Magee and many College of Nursing faculty.

They made what might have been an overwhelming time a success for Muhando.

“Thankfully, the UMSL nursing program has a lot of professors who have been in the nursing field for a really long time and carry immense knowledge,” she said. “They know what works, what doesn’t work. They know how to talk to and motivate students in nursing school experience. They motivated me and pushed me to give my very best.”

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen