Taking Care

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UW Tacoma alumna Joy Chang served as a medic in the army, an emergency room nurse at Tacoma General and now works as a nurse practitioner in a private practice.

Joy Chang, '10 (Environmental Science), walks through the door of a small family medicine clinic in Enumclaw. She takes off the mask she wore into the building and replaces it with a brand new, disposable one. Chang then gets her temperature checked before proceeding to her workstation. Once there she cleans the area with disinfectant.

Chang’s first appointment is virtual. “I want to say upwards of 60% of my caseload is virtual these days,” she said. Chang started at the clinic in 2017 shortly after she became a nurse practitioner. Before then she’d worked as an emergency room nurse at Tacoma General. “You had to know a little about a lot of different pathologies and diagnoses,” said Chang of her experience in emergency medicine. “I also feel very honored knowing I was there to help people in their time of need.”

Medicine has long been one of Chang’s interests. “I’ve always felt drawn towards healthcare,” she said. “I remember, I think I was seven or eight, and I just knew that I wanted to work in the medical field so that I could help people.”

Editor's Note

We had long planned to run Joy's story this week. The tragic events in Atlanta gave us pause. We reached out to Joy to see if she wanted us to post her story at a later date. Joy's reply is powerful. We checked back with her to see if we could share her words with you. Joy embraced the idea. Here then, is her response.

"Thank you for checking in. I appreciate you for thinking of us but if anything at this point in time, I’d be more inclined to want to publish my story.

Asian fear and hate and racism is on the rise and I will not take it sitting down."

Chang believes heritage played a role in her decision to work in healthcare. Chang’s parents came to the United States from China. “Chinese culture focuses on wellness and prevention,” she said. “I was raised with the idea that you have to think of things preventatively.”

Chang went to high school in Mississippi. Afterward, she joined the Army where she served as a medic for four years. Chang spent most of those years overseas in Korea, Kuwait and Iraq. “I operated our Field Life Ambulance (FLA) that served as our primary way of transporting injured comrades off the battlefield,” she said.

Chang left the army in 2006. She enrolled at Pierce College where she completed an associate’s degree before coming to campus in 2008. At UW Tacoma, Chang chose to pursue her interest in environmental science. The work she completed at UW Tacoma opened the door to a career in nursing. “I feel my time at UW Tacoma prepared me for the next stage in my professional life,” she said. “I was able to complete my prerequisites for my master’s in nursing.” Change earned a master’s in nursing at Pacific Lutheran University.

Medicine is an ever-evolving field. The past year has shown that the world we thought we knew can be upended at a moment’s notice. Chang feels suited for this moment. “Education taught me different ways to see the world,” she said. “I’ve learned that we never know everything and that being open-minded and receptive is the best thing we can do for ourselves and for future generations.”

Chang was on maternity leave when the pandemic started. The mother of three had concerns about returning to the working world but trusted that her colleagues would be safe and stay informed on the latest information regarding the virus. Still, she worried about her child in daycare and the other doing school through Zoom. “It’s been a juggling act but I’m thankful because I have really good friends and family who live close by that have been able to help out,” she said.

Even so, the past 12 months have been stressful. Chang talks to a counselor once a month. “My anxiety has gotten a little worse lately,” she said. “So, I’m taking steps to address that and make sure I’m taking care of my mental health.”

Chang’s experience with mental health mimics those of her patients. “I want to say that I’m seeing 50-70% more cases of people who are having issues with anxiety and depression,” she said. “One of the things I tell people is that it’s okay to not feel okay.”

Joy Chang walks through the door. She changed out of her scrubs before leaving the clinic. Once inside her home, Chang changes again. She puts on a robe and drops her clothes into the washing machine. Chang then goes upstairs and takes a shower before going to see her family.

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / March 19, 2021
Photos by: 
Joy Chang
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu