As a teenager, Susan K. F. Kau foresaw herself being a Latin major in college. Yet on her 16th birthday, she had an appendectomy and became permanently intrigued when the clinical assistant who took care of her talked about nursing. Her late mom, Margaret Kau, inspired her as well, often telling her that she was a fighter and could do anything if she put her mind to it. After graduating from the University of Hawaii in 1982, Ms. Kau immediately joined and still works as a neonatal intensive care unit staff nurse at Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children, part of Hawaii Pacific Health in Honolulu, Hawaii. She holds the professional designation of being an RNC-NIC—a registered nurse certified in neonatal intensive care by the National Certification Corporation.
Choosing healthcare as her life’s work has garnered well-deserved accolades for Ms. Kau. In 2022, she received the Royal Order of Kapi’olani Award from the Hawaiian Civic Club and Caring for Hawai‘i Neonates during the Alliance of Global Neonatal Nursing Convention. In 2016, she won the Nurse of the Year Award from Malama o Na Keiki, Caring for Hawai‘i Neonates. While Ms. Kau appreciates the recognition, she feels that her greatest achievement is the reward of being a bedside nurse—loving, tending to, and going above and beyond for her “little patients” and seeing the babies go home.
Ms. Kau also is a writer proud to have penned her first book from the babies’ perspectives on how they want and need to be cared for. She co-authored “Neonatal Nursing: A Global Perspective” in 2022 and “The Late Preterm Infant” in 2019 in addition to editing “Comprehensive Neonatal Nursing Care,” the 6th Edition in 2019. Ms. Kau is working on a manuscript titled “A Passion for Life” to be published in 2024. Her manuscript will include details on how she had to learn to speak up and become a patient advocate and how she had opportunities to accept more advanced leadership roles yet chose to continue to stay at babies’ bedsides.
Further, Ms. Kau has assisted in related research, served on numerous committees, taught new graduate classes, and created a curriculum for new graduates entering the neonatal unit. She emphasizes the important components of nursing necessary to becoming a fine-tuned clinician: using assessment, skills, and the development of critical thinking. Elements beyond technical nursing skills, she says, include bedside manners, communication, empathy, compassion, and the ability to look at and see everything concerning the patient.
Practicing and teaching based on her motto, “Positivity, flexibility, and resilience,” Ms. Kau believes the attributes that have played a role in her success are being culturally sensitive, willing to learn, humble, and hardworking, knowing that nothing is given on a silver platter. Dedicated to helping people whenever and wherever possible, she traveled to India in 2017 on a medical mission. Closer to home, she is a conference speaker and community educator with key memberships with the Hawaii Nurses Association, the Academy of Neonatal Nursing, Caring for Hawai’i Neonates, and the National Association of Neonatal Nursing to stay on top of industry developments, practices, and issues. Ms. Kau is a devout volunteer with the March of Dimes, for which she has been walking for nearly two decades in support of the organization’s mission to prevent birth defects and premature birth.
Ms. Kau wants to be remembered as a nurse blessed to fill each day with gratitude, who cared about all babies and their families, and who never forgot where she came from. Within the next few years, she plans to retire and delve further into her enjoyment of cooking, walking, collecting Fabergé eggs, and embellishing handbags and accessories with Swarovski crystals.