Deaf student Sunshine Miles fights through perceptions to become a nurse

Sunshine Miles

BSN student Sunshine Miles always wanted to be part of the medical world but had to fight through others’ perceptions. She’s poised to graduate this semester from the College of Nursing. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Sunshine Miles kept getting no. 

No, she couldn’t be a nurse. No, she couldn’t be a CNA. No, she couldn’t be part of the medical world in any way. 

That’s because the University of Missouri–St. Louis student was born Deaf. But Miles, who is in the sixth generation of her family with no hearing due to a genetic condition, knew she shouldn’t be limited. 

“My parents made me feel that there was nothing wrong with us,” Miles says through her interpreter. “We’re not broken. We don’t need to be fixed. We just process the world differently.” 

At 19, she started community college, learning English as a second language after growing up with American Sign Language, and eventually transferred to UMSL’s College of Nursing. She’s now poised to graduate with her BSN and hopes to work in palliative care or oncology while being an advocate for Deaf individuals. 

The tipping point for Miles was her daughter, who had myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease where the brain doesn’t send the correct signals to the muscles. Too weak to breathe on her own, she needed a tracheotomy and a ventilator at birth. 

Though her daughter eventually grew out of the condition, that hearkened back to when Miles was a little girl and saw a kidney transplant save her mother’s life. 

Those experiences inspired Miles to return to her childhood ambition and become a nurse. 

“I started trying when I was 19,” she says. “But I was told that I couldn’t. I switched over to being a full-time mom. I had three children. But I still wanted to be a nurse. It kept pulling at me.” 

Just as in patient care, Miles notes the importance of continuity and fit with her two interpreters, who have been with her throughout her nursing journey. In class, the two switch off signing and voicing every 15 to 20 minutes. Miles also uses facial and body language to communicate, which has built unique connections with patients but has been a challenge during the pandemic with masks and social distancing. 

Throughout school, the nursing faculty and staff have encouraged and supported Miles. 

“Not all Deaf individuals are the same,” she says. “We have different experiences. We have our own culture, which might influence what we need for accessibility and how we approach learning. The teachers have been wonderful about meeting me where I’m at and accepting me, not only as a Deaf person but as a person.” 

Miles hopes that in addition to providing superior care to her patients she’ll be able to help the Deaf community feel that they can be part of the medical world, just as meeting a Deaf nurse through the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss had done for her. 

“I love helping people,” she says. “I want to show the world that the Deaf community is capable of doing anything, and I want to show my community that people can do these things. We’ve faced a lot of oppression and barriers, and we continue to be creative in eliminating barriers, however challenging it may be.” 

This story was originally published in the spring 2021 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email


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