When Aluem Tark ’16, who is expecting to graduate this year from Columbia Nursing’s PhD program, came to America from South Korea when she was only 15, she came with two suitcases and a passion to learn. It was during her high school years, while volunteering at a local hospital, that she became inspired to be a nurse, first as a pediatric oncology nurse and then as a family nurse practitioner. “At the hospital, I witnessed how nurses worked so selflessly to provide comfort and the best possible care for those in need, particularly for individuals with chronic pain who were suffering needlessly.” As a PhD student, Tark conducted palliative care research under the mentorship of Patricia Stone, PhD, Centennial Professor of Health Policy. She hopes her research, which she will be continuing in a postdoctoral fellowship position under the Pain and Associated Symptoms Research T32 training grant at the University of Iowa College of Nursing, will be instructive to clinicians working to alleviate that pain.
Why did you decide to pursue nursing and why did you choose Columbia Nursing?
I had an opportunity to work as a volunteer at a local hospital during my high school years. There, I saw how nurses worked so selflessly to provide comfort and the best care possible for those in need. I wanted to be one of them – someone who devoted their knowledge and skills to making other people feel healthy, safe, and cared for.
What did you gain from your education at Columbia Nursing?
I gained lifelong friends, priceless memories, and a strong research foundation from faculty who are world-renowned nursing scientists. My PhD journey was perhaps the most challenging of my academic career. However, my incredible mentors and PhD classmates supported me every step of the way. I can't imagine my time at Columbia Nursing without them, and I am deeply grateful for my “Ph-amily,” as my PhD cohort referred to itself as.
What are you passionate about, and how has being a student at Columbia Nursing allowed you to follow that passion?
During my time as a pediatric oncology nurse, I became passionate about end-of-life and palliative care. As a student in Columbia Nursing’s PhD program, I was able to combine that passion with my interest in research, working with my mentor, Patricia Stone, PhD, to better understand how to help patients dealing with uncontrolled pain. Being involved in research projects with her interdisciplinary team, and seeing her successfully run the Center for Improving Palliative Care for Vulnerable Adults with MCC (CIPC), gave me the confidence to follow my passion.
What’s the next step in your career?
I am excited to learn more about research, to advance my knowledge, and to grow as an independent nurse scientist. Come September, I will be doing all three as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iowa College of Nursing under the Pain and Associated Symptoms Research T32 training grant.
Do you have a favorite memory of your time at Columbia Nursing?
While serving as co-president of the Doctoral Student Organization, I helped organize and start a new annual “Ph-amily” retreat with my PhD student peers, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members. We held last year’s retreat on the beautiful 7th floor of Columbia Nursing’s building and had more than 20 attendees. We spoke about our research, our clinical interests, and even played PhD bingo. The purpose of the event was to bring together doctoral students and build morale by creating lasting memories. Another favorite memory of mine was serving as a teaching assistant in a research synthesis and translation course taught by Arlene Smaldone ’03, PhD, professor, and assistant dean of scholarship and research. It was so meaningful to interact with both PhD and Doctor of Nursing Practice students in one class and help them through the course.