Khada Dulal
Khada Dulal is pursuing a career as a certified registered nurse anesthetist. “I can get a cancer patient who is at the most vulnerable time of their life, lessen their anxiety, take them to the [operating room], and when they wake up, they will be cancer free, or they will have undergone this life-altering surgery.” (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Class of 2021: Growing up in a refugee camp fueled in Khada Dulal a desire to help others

Dulal, who will graduate with a doctor of nurse anesthesia practice degree, is ready to start his career at VCU Health.

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A lack of medical care during childhood at a Beldangi refugee camp in Nepal pushed Virginia Commonwealth University student Khada Dulal to pursue advanced credentials in medicine. That journey has taken him from mud huts to studies of complex pharmaceuticals. Now at age 28, Dulal will graduate this month with a Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice degree from the VCU College of Health Professions. And after passing his boards, Dulal will administer those lifesaving medical services to patients at VCU Health.

Dulal pursued a career as a certified registered nurse anesthetist because it allows him to focus his time and energy on one patient at a time.

“I work through the complex intricacies of the patient's physiology, their disease processes and so many more factors,” Dulal said. “I will be the last one they talk to before I put them to sleep and then the first one to talk to them after they wake up. 

“I can get a cancer patient who is at the most vulnerable time of their life, lessen their anxiety, take them to the [operating room], and when they wake up, they will be cancer free, or they will have undergone this life-altering surgery. I will be the one responsible for them, for their comfort and their pain.”

Deprivation fueled Dulal’s ambition. Political conflict in his family’s homeland of Bhutan, just west of Nepal, preceded his birth and forced his family into the rudimentary conditions of the refugee camp run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“We had the bare minimum access to any sort of health care,” Dulal said. “My mom would tell me the story that when she was giving birth to me in a nearby hospital, we had to travel 30 minutes by bicycle. She was almost in a coma for five to seven days because of the lack of medical resources and everything that was unavailable there.”

The other influential incident that pushed Dulal toward health care was seeing his grandmother dying at age 60 from uncontrolled diabetes. 

“She would frequently get sick, and we would have to rush her to the hospital, put her on the back of a bicycle for a 30-minute journey to the nearest hospital,” said Dulal. “That was the other reason I wanted to pursue a career in health care, so that I can be an information bank or resource to help people closest to me with anything health care related in my community and for people across the area.” 

When he was 14, Dulal’s family was resettled by the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City, Utah, where his uncle lived. Once settled in the United States, Dulal went from a year of culture shock and English as a second language classes to high school honors and Advanced Placement courses. 

“I was just determined to go the longest with the opportunity that was provided to me,” said Dulal. “In the states, I could finally go to school with all these amenities. I came to a realization that if I wanted to learn something, there were resources available. I studied my butt off the whole of high school and at the University of Utah, where I did my B.S. in nursing on a full scholarship.”

Dulal completed his undergraduate degree in May 2016 and worked at the University of Utah Hospital in an intensive care unit for more than two years. He began his doctoral program at VCU in January 2019.

“My mom has arthritis, so I wanted to achieve the highest amount of education, and the job that comes along with it, so I could make sure she doesn't have to toil another day in her life and that I can provide for her, help her out financially, and just be a resource for her,” Dulal said. 

Academic highlights have included graduating with a 4.0 grade point average and receiving multiple scholarships from the Department of Nurse Anesthesia and the College of Health Professions.

Throughout his intense program of study, Dulal’s brother Milan, who is a traveling nurse, lived with him in Richmond, providing a support system. 

Dulal culminated his studies with a doctoral research project investigating the preoperative use of the antibiotic cefazolin, particularly in people who have a history of a penicillin allergy. He was able to present his work with his adviser, Harold Barnwell III, D.N.A.P., an assistant professor in the Department of Nurse Anesthesia, at a professional conference.

“Anesthesiology is fascinating,” Dulal said. “It is truly telling how resilient the human body is. And it's amazing that I get to do that day in and day out.”