Nikki Yamashiro’s passion for solving problems and helping others led her to pursue a career in nursing. Her path to UCI’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program started at Glendora’s Citrus College, where she trained to become a licensed vocational nurse, and Cal State Fullerton, where she earned a B.S. in nursing. Yamashiro’s clinical background includes work in home health, pediatrics and a men’s correctional facility. Still, she doubted her ability to gain admission into UCI’s highly competitive D.N.P. program and calls doing so “the biggest blessing of a lifetime.” Reaching the pinnacle of her profession led to self-reflection and a desire to be intentional about her goals: to diversify the nursing workforce and address racial health inequalities. Yamashiro recently partnered with longtime UCI supporter Dolores Grunigen to create an endowment for graduate nursing students who plan to work with underresourced populations. “I identify as a queer person, a mother and a person of Hispanic origin,” she says. “As a nurse, our job is to get underrepresented communities to trust us.” Her D.N.P. capstone project at UCI’s Student Health Center included increasing the availability of the HIV prevention drug PrEP and implementing a culturally competent sexual health history survey. Additionally, Yamashiro says, simple practices such as displaying a gay pride flag and asking patients their pronouns are small but important ways to better serve LGBTQ+ people.
What is your favorite memory at UCI?
My favorite memory at UCI would have to be building these lifelong friendships with my fellow clinicians. We have laughed together, cried together, experienced life and death together, have navigated a pandemic, and everything in between. One memory wouldn’t justify the family I have built during my journey here. Words can’t describe the gratitude I have for those who I am so lucky to be surrounded by and call not only my best friends but my colleagues.
What are your plans after graduation?
I’d like to sleep in with all my babies and take them somewhere with my wife to soak in all their joy, because it’s truly life-giving! I also want to study for boards ASAP. There is much work to be done!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself working to impact the LGBTQIA community and expanding my experiences into the classroom to prepare the next generation of nurse practitioners.
“We need well-prepared and intelligent individuals to be the future of healthcare, and it’s important to have healthcare providers that identify with the diverse populations they serve. Nikki understands that we have a responsibility to our patients. She is a dedicated champion of underserved populations.”
– Jeffrey Vu, nurse practitioner and associate director of the UCI Health Gender Diversity Program
Who was your biggest influence at UCI?
My biggest influence would have to be my two biggest mentors: Catherine Mireles (my mom), who has supported, encouraged and celebrated me every step of the way. She has been such a stellar example of the woman I aspire to be and the women I intend to raise. I couldn’t ask for a more understanding, ambitious, hard-working example of everything I want to emulate within my career. Secondly, Dr. Jeff Vu [nurse practitioner and associate director of the UCI Health Gender Diversity Program]. I cannot put into words the miracles I have witnessed within his patient appointments. There is not a moment where I don’t see his passion, love and drive to be impactful in the LGBTQIA community. He is not just a stellar clinician but a true lifeline for his patients. He has elevated the goal of what it means to be a great nurse practitioner. He is everything an NP should aspire to be. No rotation felt like work because of how welcoming he is. His mentorship is something I will carry and practice forever. I hope he knows the gratitude I have for all the work he has put into me.
What do you know now that you wish you had known before coming to UCI?
I wish I knew how deserving I was of this role, that being authentically me is my greatest strength. I am the person I always searched for within my nursing journey. I wish for other underrepresented minorities this same experience in their journeys as healthcare providers. There is so much power in truly accepting yourself.
What are your hobbies or interests?
My hobbies are my three children (Olivia, 6, and Emile and Elliette, 2). They are my greatest teachers and motivate me to be the best version of myself on a daily basis. I love cooking, and I’m a Rubik’s Cube fanatic. After NP boards, I plan on learning how to convert a VW bus engine into a fully electric motor.