Illustrated portrait of Pauline Chin
Illustration: John Jay Cabuay

Pauline Chin recently was at a dog park when someone recognized her and said Chin had been instrumental in helping them apply for nursing school and get a nursing job. 

This isn’t an unusual occurrence for Chin, who has prioritized being a mentor, educator, and teacher for hundreds of nurses and nurse trainees in San Francisco over several decades. 

The UCSF Nursing Alumni Association recognized her dedicated service with the 2024 Jane Norbeck Distinguished Service Award. Named for an alum and former dean of the UCSF School of Nursing, the Norbeck award goes to an alum who has made significant contributions to their profession. 

“It’s an amazing honor,” she says. “It’s nice to be someone people remember. I just have a heart to help every chance I get. Helping people is in my blood.” 

In fact, Chin’s father was a podiatrist, and several of her aunts were nurses, so a caregiving career was modeled for her from a young age. But she says her parents never pressured her to go into medicine. 

“When I was a teenager, I volunteered as candy striper,” she says. “I always felt like I had something to offer. Being around patients never intimidated me.” 

Embodying the mission and values of UCSF 

After growing up and going to school in San Francisco’s Richmond District, Chin took pre-nursing courses at San Francisco City College and San Francisco State University (SFSU), but her eye was on the prize: the UCSF School of Nursing. 

She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from UCSF in 1978, worked as a nurse for 11 years, then earned a master’s degree in nursing at UCSF. 

“I’m a UCSF baby – a double alumna – since I went to undergrad and graduate school there and had my whole career there,” she says. “I’m so proud to be associated with UCSF. It’s one of the top places to work, to be a patient, and to get trained.” 

At UCSF, she was a staff nurse, nursing supervisor, nurse manager, nurse educator, and volunteer adjunct assistant clinical professor in the UCSF Department of Physiological Nursing. She also was a CPR instructor and taught staff members how to use new equipment. 

Always a trusted staff advocate, knowledgeable source of information, and UCSF cheerleader, Chin was entrusted several times with acting as an on-site guide for inspectors from the Joint Commission or the state. 

“I knew everyone in the hospital and wanted to learn where we needed to get stronger, so I was a good choice for that,” she says. “But I was always looking out for nurses, so when an inspector would ask a nurse a question, I would often shout out the answer! The inspectors didn’t love that.” 

Chin’s most proud of being a mentor to hundreds of nurses from UCSF and SFSU as they prepare to get jobs after graduation. For many years, she’s gone to career days and talked to trainees and helped with cover letters, résumés, and interview skills. 

“When I was training, there wasn’t anyone around like me,” she says. “You just relied on luck and did your best. Now I know the questions hiring managers will ask. I know what nurses need to do to be competitive.” 

“Throughout her time at UCSF, Pauline has reached thousands of nurses, patient-care assistants, and volunteers, providing education and mentorship,” says one of the colleagues who nominated Chin for the Norbeck award. “Her approach always brings positivity, humility, and passion for the work she does. She embodies the mission and values of UCSF and is a superb example of what a mentor and leader can be.” 

Service beyond nursing 

Always a willing volunteer, Chin has over the years served as board president of the UCSF School of Nursing Alumni Association and board member for the UCSF Alumni Association. Currently, she’s an active board member of the UCSF Retirees Association. 

She’s even led a knitting and crocheting group for UCSF retirees that numbers 50 members, who produce caps, blankets, scarves, and other items for UCSF pediatric and adult patients. But their impact has reached far beyond San Francisco. Through the Rotary Club of San Francisco Chinatown, she and several knitting club members made hundreds of caps for babies at a pediatric hospital in Guatemala. 

“I still knit a lot for patients,” Chin says. “I probably have knitted about 2,000 items in the years since I retired.” 

Chin’s two children have also become part of UCSF. Her daughter is a staff member for UCSF Volunteer Services, and her son works in a microbiology lab in China Basin. Chin has three grandchildren, and since her 2013 retirement, she has added “enthusiastic babysitter” to her list of volunteer jobs. 

In addition to the Rotary Club, Chin has volunteered for numerous community organizations. She’s even organized dog-park cleanups. 

“I love animals, and I love patients,” Chin says. “My ideal situation would be to combine my love for dogs and patients by visiting patients with my two dogs.  They wouldn’t pass the therapy-dog certification, but they fill my house with love.”

Award recipients featured in this video about community:
• Kerry K. Carney, DDS ’84 - UCSF Dental Alumni Association Medal of Honor
• Pauline Chin, BSN ’78, MSN ’92 - UCSF Nursing Alumni Association’s Jane Norbeck Distinguished Service Award
• Laurel Coleman, MD ’89, Resident Alum - Alumni Humanitarian Service Award
Find out what else awardees shared with us.
Access the videos