NewsCovering Colorado


Afghan refugee to UCHealth registered nurse, it's been a journey for Razia Damawand

Posted at 11:19 AM, Apr 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-28 13:19:11-04

DENVER — Refugee. It’s a word we are hearing in the news a lot lately. Right now it’s primarily Ukrainian refugees; last summer it was Afghan refugees. While a refugee is someone who needs support making a transition to a new life in a new place, a refugee is not someone typically looking for a handout or who needs to be taken care of long-term.

I recently met a refugee from Afghanistan who has been in Colorado for nearly three decades. She is a nurse at UCHealth in metro Denver and has raised her family here. Her husband is an attorney, two of her daughters are also registered nurses, and a third is in nursing school. Razia Damawand and her daughters have cared for untold numbers of people in Colorado during their critical moments of need, truly giving back to our community in a most meaningful way.

When Razia was 19, after her father had been put in jail when Russia invaded Afghanistan, Razia says her mom made the decision to leave the country. “We left Afghanistan - my mom decided very quickly when Russia invaded. She decided we needed to leave to save my brother's life and all of us. That was my mom‘s decision.”

Razia says people who are new to this country need someone to make them feel welcome and help them learn their way around the community. “I think mostly all Afghans that I know - they really want an education. They always want more for themselves and their kids. A lot of them speak English very well. They just want to know, ‘How do I get to the community college? How do I get transportation? How do I get my driver’s license? What do I need to do to be a part of the community? Can I work?’ Those are most of the things that they need. They really want to work and want to be involved.”

The first stop for Razia’s family was Pakistan and then, she says, “We went to Germany where my mom‘s side of the family is. They had been in Germany for many, many years.”

In Germany, Razia learned to speak German and went to school to become a registered nurse. Razia says that in a way, she was following her mother’s footsteps, “I always wanted to be a nurse. My mom had been a midwife for many years in Afghanistan. I wanted to be like my mom. She was always helping a lot of people and she was very successful and people loved her. So I wanted to be loved and I wanted to be a caregiver. So you could say I have always wanted to be a nurse.”

After meeting her husband in Germany, the family eventually made their way to Denver. A nursing license from Germany doesn't transfer in the United States, but that didn’t stop Razia from continuing to be involved in the medical field and being a caregiver - however she could make it happen. Razia recalls, “Presbyterian Hospital was really close to me and I was able to go there and ask them if I could be a volunteer. They said yes, and I told them, ‘I have a license from Germany but I am not licensed in the United States. Are there any positions?’ They said, ‘Yes we have a position called a patient care technician.”

Razia jumped at the opportunity and over the next nine months, took classes to improve her English and studied for her Colorado state boards to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) - someone who provides basic nursing care under the supervision of a registered nurse, or other healthcare practitioner.

Razia was always confident in her abilities as a nurse, but she says it wasn’t always easy for her to be patient as she traveled the path to becoming a registered nurse in the U.S.

“One day my kids were sick and we were in Children’s Hospital Colorado, and my husband looked at me and he felt so sad for me. He said, “I know you’re looking at the nurses because you are interested in their job because you were a nurse in Germany and now you’re trying to become a nurse here yourself.”

While she was improving her English and studying for the boards, she also had to learn how to work her way around a computer, because the state of Colorado had just transitioned to a computerized test for the nursing boards. Razia passed her LPN boards on her first try, “The first time I took the test I passed! I went to my manager at the hospital and I said I got my LPN! She said, ``I'm so proud of you! We have a job for you, and we can transfer you to be an LPN.”

Over the next nine months, as Razia worked as an LPN, she was also working toward her next goal of becoming a registered nurse, (RN). Razia remembers that with as much as she has accomplished, it wasn’t always easy. “Some days I said to myself, ‘I don’t know if I can ever be an RN.’ Other days I would be like, ‘No I’m going to do it.’”

When she took her boards to get her license to practice as an RN, she again passed on her first try and began working as a registered nurse at what is now called Medical Center of Aurora. She eventually moved to UCHealth, where she’s been for the last 21 years.

And as her family grew, her daughters decided they also wanted to be like their mom. Two of her daughters are now registered nurses, and a third daughter is in school to become an RN. It’s hard to imagine how many people have been - and will be cared for - by Razia, her daughters and the others who have been inspired to become nurses because of them.

Razia knows it all started with her mom, and that decision to flee Afghanistan in 1980. “I’ve always said I’m so proud to be a nurse and so proud to be here. I've had the passion and I wanted to be a nurse. I was given the Daisy Award, and so many people congratulated me. I was also on the local news (in 2020) because I was recognized for being a nurse during COVID. Those things all make me proud. It’s not an easy job, but it is doable. You just have to go and do it.”

Razia says she feels the plight of refugees who are currently making their way to America right now. She knows it’s a challenging journey but she also knows there is hope. “I think this country is a place of diversity and big opportunity and there is always help available. I always tell people don’t be shy, whatever you want if you work for it the opportunities will come. I think there are a lot of opportunities in America. I’m so proud to be at UCHealth and to have been an employee here for so many years. They treat me so well and my coworkers are amazing.”

Razia also has a special place in her heart for the thousands of people who fled Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, some of whom now call Colorado home. “I think it’s shocking to come from Afghanistan to America for a lot of people. My big advice to them is always to familiarize yourself and introduce yourself, get out in the community. My experience was a little different because I came here from Germany, so it’s different for someone who comes here from Afghanistan. I do think it is a culture shock, especially for women being under the kind of stress they have been - for so many years, and then suddenly they have things (a culture) that is so open. That adjustment will take time.”

Razia says she is grateful everyday as a wife, nurse and mother and she’s proud to be a citizen of the United States. She also knows it’s a far better outcome than what she imagines if her mom had never made the decision to get out of Afghanistan. Razia says, “I can’t even imagine (if we had stayed) I don’t know if we would still be alive. I have three brothers and I can’t imagine that they would be alive. I think my mom made the right decision for all of us and that’s why we are here today - it was my mom.


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