Evelyn Lai '08 Urges Social Responsibility in the Medical Field

Michael Gluk '12

Evelyn Lai '08 Urges Social
Responsibility in the Medical Field

by Michael Gluk '12
6/29/11

Evelyn Lai '08
"I've seen in the last three years," says Lai, a pediatric nurse practitioner at a community health clinic, "how my time at Swarthmore shaped the type of health care provider I will be."

At last month's Yale University School of Nursing commencement ceremony, Evelyn Lai '08 addressed her fellow graduates and reflected on the process by which they came to define themselves as practicing nurses. It's a journey, she says, marked by the gradual assumption of new responsibilities. 

"Somewhere along the way, we've progressed from merely wanting to help to also being able to help," Lai said in her talk. "From only caring about people to also caring for people. From reading about injustices to seeing injustices, from merely dreaming about justice and equality to actively bringing about justice and equality." Lai emphasized that the nurse-patient dynamic is a relationship and an experience in caring, not simply a professional duty.

Lai's speech exhibits moral ardor and practical optimism, qualities she credits to her time at Swarthmore. Lai majored in English and Chinese, studies from which a career in medicine might seem unexpected. She emphasizes, however, that her choice was not a bow to the pressure to "do something more practical," but in fact followed naturally from her time at the College.

"If I hadn't studied English and Chinese at Swarthmore, I would never have made it into nursing school," she says. "I would never have considered it. I learned about social justice and social responsibility. I learned to think critically about issues, to feel indignant and angry, to feel passionately and strongly."

To Lai, medicine is a way to stay engaged with and connected to humanity. Each individual patient provides the practitioner with the opportunity to learn, "because they have let us learn from them," she says. "In doing so, they have taught us further how to care, and they will continue to remind us why to care."

Lai plans to stay in New Haven for now, working as a pediatric nurse practitioner at a community health clinic. "I've seen in the last three years," she says, "how my time at Swat shaped the type of health care provider I will be."