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I’ve been with the float team as a patient service specialist (PSS) at UW Medical Center for about 1½ years. Before I started here, I worked as a lead teacher in a before and after school childcare program in the Shoreline School District. I loved the students and I loved the families, but my goal was to go into some kind of administrative work. Pursuing that, I was an administrator with a private land survey firm. I liked it, but realized I missed working directly with people. Because many of my family members work at UW, it was natural for me to seek employment here.

I am the second generation of a Mien refugee family. My parents and most of my aunts and uncles gave up everything that was familiar to them to come to America. In Laos, they farmed rice and vegetables in a small rural village, just to eke by. One of my aunties still does. In America, nothing was familiar to my family – certainly not English or living in an urban environment with a cash-based economy. America was a culture shock! What they’d heard about America overseas was very different than what America turned out to be when they got here.

Penny's parents (with Mom in a Mien traditional outfit)

I said that many of my family members, including my parents, work at the UW. They are the custodians around the campus. I am intensely proud of them! Their ability to adapt and their resiliency to overcome the hardships they faced in Laos and in America, plus their determination to make it here so that we could have a good life, inspire me daily, not only as a PSS, but in all aspects of my life. I also feel a loyalty to the UW, as it has provided employment and opportunity for my family.

This family history informs my practice as a PSS. While some PSS sigh when a patient has a language barrier, I have empathy and want to help them. I know what it’s like to be in their shoes and have some ability to see the encounter through their eyes.

I interact with everyone by reminding myself, “How would I want to be treated”? Excellent customer service is my meme. I remember that difficult behavior is usually an indication of something else, and I try to see what’s behind that behavior.

Eventually, I would like to go into some kind of leadership position and carry these values with me into that position. For now, though, I’m satisfied doing what I do, and I look forward to being a mom!

Penny (right) with husband (left) and parents



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