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Kiana Perez-Santos in her graduation gown
Kiana Perez-Santos

Caring for her family members from an early age solidified the desire for a nursing career for University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa student Kiana Perez-Santos. This summer, she will earn her master’s degree in nursing as part of the Online Advanced Population Health Nursing (APHN) program at the Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing.

group of students smiling and wearing lei
Perez-Santos (2nd from front) with her UH Mānoa Online RN to BS program classmates.

Perez-Santos earned her associate degree in nursing from Kapiʻolani Community College in spring 2021 and her bachelor’s in nursing from UH Mānoa in spring 2022 as part of the Online RN (registered nurse) to BS (bachelor’s of science in nursing) program. She was the first in her cohort to go on to earn her MS in APHN. Excelling in her studies earned her the Jetta Zimmerman Nursing Consortium Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship that covered the cost of both the Online RN to BSN program and the APHN program.

“I am committed to advocating patient care and preserving our ethnic, cultural customs to keep families together in good health to ensure a better tomorrow for future generations,” she said.

Caring for family members

Born and raised in Kalihi, the 2012 Farrington High School honors graduate was raised by her single mother and maternal grandparents.

“I’ve always loved caring for my family growing up,” she said. “Unfortunately, my family encountered many instances where we had to become caregivers for one another during my upbringing.”

perez-santos with her grandmother
Perez-Santos and her grandma after her Kapiʻolani CC nursing pinning ceremony.

In middle school, Perez-Santos was a caregiver for her uncle who was diagnosed with cancer.

“Following his surgery to remove the tumor from his leg, I was the only one who could stomach changing the bandages of a deep open wound, which I was taught how to do by some fantastic nurses at The Queen’s Medical Center’s oncology unit. For weeks, I changed my uncle’s bandage until it eventually healed,” she said.

Her uncle passed away the following year, but earlier he told the nurses, “Kiana’s going to be one nurse like you guys!”

“This gave me confidence in myself and helped me realize that I wanted to become something in healthcare,” Perez-Santos said.

She later cared for her grandfather until he passed away in 2016. Shortly after, she began caring for her grandmother and moved in with her prior to starting the nursing program at Kapiʻolani CC.

“Today, she is 91 years young with some chronic health issues, including Parkinson’s but is doing well,” Perez-Santos said.

Scholarship support

Perez-Santos is grateful for all the opportunities the scholarship has provided, including being able to focus on studies without the stress over finances.

Their generious gift forever changed my life!
—Kiana Perez-Santos

“This gift has allowed me to care for my grandma and go to school full-time without having to worry about working full-time to pay for everything,” she said. “I can only imagine what it would have been like to balance it all.”

She added, “I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the Jetta Zimmerman Foundation and board members. Their generous gift forever changed my life! Mahalo to everyone at the UH Mānoa Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing for their continuous support during my academic endeavors.”

Bringing awareness to disease prevention

Close to earning her APHN master’s degree in a couple weeks, Perez-Santos plans to apply for new graduate program positions for registered nurses at hospitals in Hawaiʻi to gain bedside nursing experience and improve her skills. She aspires to work with residents in her local community to focus on health promotion and prevention of illnesses.

“Over my years of schooling, I learned that disease prevention is much more effective than trying to heal it once it has started,” Perez-Santos said. “Therefore, educating the public about how to do so is one way I feel could really bring a positive impact on the people of Hawaiʻi.”

—By Arlene Abiang

perez-santos and family at lei greeting after graduation
Celebrating with family at the 2023 UH Mānoa spring commencement.
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