Olga Kagan – her story

This project helped me reflect on my life and express my inner dialogue of “Who I Am.”

I was raised by a single mom in the fruitful city of Tashkent. My mother was my world, my mentor, and my role model and remains so despite her physical absence. From an early age, I was given the responsibilities of caring for my younger brother and my grandmother as well as fulfilling an array of other duties while my mother worked three jobs, pursued higher education, and parented my younger brother and I. She shaped my worldview and the person I would become. When starting a new life in the United States in 1996, like most immigrants, I experienced a culture shock. I was a recent graduate with a nursing diploma, who did not speak English or have years of experience under the belt. I struggled and at times had embarrassing moments as I learned the language and navigated new culture. However, I had the drive and ambition to accomplish my goals. I embraced the change then, and I continue to embrace it today despite the tremendous challenges and responsibilities these changes bring. In the process I discovered that I excel at problem-solving, or maybe, I simply perfected it over time. The ability to adjust swiftly and remain calm when faced with difficult situations has truly been a gift. For example, I had to remain calm and act quickly when caring for deteriorating ICU patients to save a life; or stay empathetic, yet strong when listening to disturbing vivid stories of hundreds of brave man and women working at “Ground Zero” post 9/11 attacks; or “move mountains” when faced with a devastating diagnosis and death of the closest person in my life; or console and support my own community, students, and nursing colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic; or as recent as 2022, help victims of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Even as a parent, when my own children had fought for their lives, I had to remain levelheaded and deliver emergency care to keep them breathing. Each person I’ve helped,healed, or gave hope to, provided me with purpose and motivation to do more.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had the most devastating impact on the lives of many around the world, there were also some incredibly amazing opportunities. One of them is the ability to connect with others and make a difference in the lives of many across the globe. I have been able to connect with people nationally and internationally on issues that are important to me, such as health equity, healthcare innovation, mentorship, and collaboration. This includes connection to this BJW group, professional groups, religious groups, and many others that serve as my source of inspiration and reflection. No matter what community I belong to, one thing is constant: We are stronger together than when we are apart.
Those of us who have been betrayed, defrauded, or lied to know that the quality of connections and people one chooses to surround themselves with are extremely important. These are the people who share common values, have similar drive and passion. Most importantly, surround yourself with “good” people.
These are the people who’ve supported me in the pursuit of my scientific, academic, and leadership efforts. These are the people who I celebrate with when we complete and deliver on a set-out goal. These are the people who are not afraid to challenge me yet come to my rescue when needed. Finally, “good people” will create opportunities to honor and elevate each other. Among them are the many mentors and role models who helped me grow personally, professionally, emotionally, and spiritually. As a mentor and a role model to my children, their friends, my students, and colleagues, I fully understand the tremendous responsibility that comes with this role. Looking back to my childhood, whether during ordinary days in a busy city, or summer days interfaced with nature at the summer house, I am reminded of all the people and places that contributed to “Who I Am” today.
If you never had an inner dialogue with yourself, it is never too late to start.