Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Viji George, DNP, MA, RN, RNC-NIC
Celebrating Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month: One Nurse’s Journey From Military Nursing In India to Magnet Program Director In Texas.
People often say it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. For #healthynurse Viji George, DNP, MA, RN, RNC-NIC, the journey from military nursing officer in India to Magnet program director in Texas has been long and winding. But it’s shaped her perspective, professional growth, and ability to lead.
Today, Viji lives in a community she loves. She finds her work to be meaningful and challenging. And she’s using her experience and global outlook to advance the nursing profession and create opportunities for nurses worldwide.
“You do not see a lot of Asian leaders, especially in health care,” Viji says. “I have been told by many that I am a role model and an inspiration to them, and I feel honored for that. But it’s genuinely my passion to make a change and have an impact. I want to use my experience to teach others and share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.”
Taking the Road Less Traveled
The path Viji took to get where she is today was anything but straight. She began her career as a military nurse, rising to the rank of lieutenant. After she married, Viji and her husband, James, moved to Kuwait to pursue new career opportunities. The plan was to make money, see the world, and eventually return home to India.
“I learned that each country views the practice of nursing and the nursing profession differently,” Viji says. “Nurses did not have much of a voice when I was in India. It wasn’t an autonomous profession.” In Kuwait, Viji found that “expatriate nurses” (a term used to describe foreign nurses in Kuwait) could make a lot of money but had little opportunity to develop professionally.
As an avid learner, Viji knew she needed room to grow. Her sister-in-law lived in the United States and urged her to move there. But the immigration process is long, and Viji estimates that it could have taken between 2 to 5 years to get a visa back then. She knew that getting a nursing license in the U.S. would also be challenging.
When they eventually found out their visa was ready 3 years later, Viji felt conflicted. “I wanted to experience the U.S.,” Viji says. “It’s one of the best places in the world, and I was excited about the professional autonomy for nurses that I’d only read about. But we were leaving great jobs where we were earning well, only to start from scratch — and now we had a 2-year-old. When we finally got to the U.S., the world felt upside down.”
Finding Footing in the U.S.
Viji and her family settled in upstate New York, where she had her work visa. Her sister-in-law lived about 90 miles away and was a tremendous support. But even with family somewhat nearby, the adjustment was challenging.
“When you’re an immigrant, you crave anything familiar: your culture, your food, your people, just to hear your language from another person,” Viji says. Everything from driving and cold weather to light switches and slang felt backward and foreign. On top of it all, the town where they settled did not have an Asian community where they could find comfort.
It took Viji almost 8 months to receive approval to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam and earn her nursing license. After working in residential care for 2 years and adding another child to the family, Viji was ready for a new learning experience.
They moved closer to New York City, and Viji accepted an internship in neonatal nursing at a Level 4 NICU — an area of care she had always wanted to explore. For 2 years, they took advantage of everything NYC had to offer, but they still didn’t truly feel at home.
A Place to Call Home
Viji and her family visited friends from Kuwait living in Dallas, Texas, and they immediately fell in love with the community. During the week they were there, they purchased a plot of land, made plans to build a house, and Viji submitted 5 job applications.
“It was a quick decision, but our experience of global trotting helped us,” Viji says. “We knew we could survive anywhere. But [Dallas] immediately felt like home to us.”
Viji accepted a job with a Magnet hospital in their Level 3 NICU. With experience in a Level 4 NICU, Viji offered valuable expertise and later helped elevate the NICU to a Level 4 designation. “I always wanted to work in a Magnet hospital,” Viji says. “Magnet hospitals are known for nursing excellence, great job satisfaction, and opportunity.”
Viji’s family quickly grew comfortable in Dallas. They found the support they craved and made connections beyond their Indian community. Viji got more involved at work and took every opportunity to learn and develop.
Relishing Professional Autonomy
Now, 15 years after they moved to Texas, Viji cannot believe how she’s grown professionally. In that time, she earned her doctorate and now oversees the Magnet and clinical excellence programs.
“I came to this Magnet director position because of my willingness to get involved and my love of learning. From the minute I arrived, I enjoyed soaking in all the new things around me,” Viji says. “But I also bring a different perspective on diversity and inclusion.”
Her experience as an immigrant highlighted the importance of being patient with people who are new to any unique setting. “It helps me relate to patients because when you are sick, you are not in your natural environment or mindset. And the hospital may be a unique setting if it’s their first time as a patient.”
She also knows what it feels like to be a nurse in an unfamiliar setting and to feel like you don’t belong. But she encourages nurses to continue to learn and carve their path. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re an immigrant nurse or you’re a native nurse. You have opportunities in the U.S. to grow to your fullest if you put your heart and mind into it. That’s the biggest difference here.”
Leading as a Global Citizen
Viji continues to grow professionally and wants other nurses to have the same opportunity. She uses her life experiences and global perspective to advance the nursing profession worldwide.
Viji has won many awards in professional practice and for promoting workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. But one accomplishment that’s especially close to her heart is the Indo-American Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) Academy she founded with 3 other nurses from India. Through the collaboration with Johns Hopkins Nursing, this Academy offers an EBP fellowship program for Indian nurses.
“It wasn’t always easy, but I’m glad we came to this country. Now, I proudly consider myself a global citizen,” Viji says. “I no longer force myself to pick one country to call my own. And that's the perspective I want to share when talking to the next generation of leaders.”
Viji George, DNP, MA, RN, RNC-NIC is the Magnet Program Director for Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Plano, Texas, and the Clinical Excellence Program Manager for Texas Health Resources in Arlington, Texas.
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