After receiving her undergraduate education in Boston, Mass., as an English major, with minors in Environmental Science and Photography, Melissa Beauchemin ’06 ’10, who is originally from New Jersey, began working at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as a clinic coordinator. It was her experience at the institute that drove her to pursue nursing as a career. She received her master’s and nurse practitioner degrees at Columbia Nursing and is expecting to graduate this year with her PhD. “My experience as a research pediatric oncology nurse practitioner left me with many unanswered questions about clinical trials, questions which Columbia Nursing’s PhD program enabled me to examine on a deep level,” notes Beauchemin. She will be continuing her research as a postdoctoral fellow at the Mailman School of Public Health this fall.
Why did you decide to pursue nursing and why did you choose Columbia Nursing?
I initially chose Columbia Nursing back in 2005 when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in nursing. I chose the program for a number of reasons. The two most important were the school’s location—my family is in New Jersey, and I wanted to study, live, and work in a diverse city—and the quality of the education at Columbia Nursing. I knew I would have access to incredible educators, clinicians, and resources to launch my career. After working first as a bedside registered nurse and then as a research nurse practitioner in pediatric oncology for 10 years, I decided to return to Columbia Nursing to pursue a PhD. My role as a research nurse practitioner in the areas of leukemia and lymphoma, and my championing of cancer control and supportive care clinical trials within pediatric hematology/oncology, as well as stem cell transplantation, provided me with a strong understanding about clinical trials. However, the more I understood, the more I was left with questions about care delivery, implementation of clinical practice guidelines, and the disparities in the care experienced by patients where social determinants made them even more vulnerable to their disease and treatment-related side effects. These questions laid the groundwork for my dissertation.
What did you gain from your education at Columbia Nursing?
I gained a deep understanding about research methods, both quantitative and qualitative, along with analytic approaches, and other research-related skills. I also now have an appreciation for the rigor and transparency that must stand behind the science to maintain and build a relationship of trust between the scientific community and the patients these findings impact the most.
What are you passionate about, and how has being a student at Columbia Nursing allowed you to follow that passion?
I am passionate about understanding and improving the care delivery system in which our patients and their families receive cancer care. It is such a complex system, and we need to be mindful about the interventions we introduce. We also need to be aware of and willing to discontinue older practices that are not helpful or may even be harmful. I think that by studying and implementing useful informatics-based approaches, such as clinical decision support systems, we can automate tasks that may traditionally take up clinician’s time. This may, hopefully, allow for more meaningful interactions between clinicians and patients.
What’s the next step in your career?
I have accepted a position as a postdoctoral fellow on the T32 Training Program in Cancer-Related Population Sciences in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. I am very excited about the opportunity to continue to develop my research skills and move toward my goal of being an independent cancer nurse researcher.
Do you have a favorite memory of your time at Columbia Nursing?
One of my favorite things to reminisce about is how Columbia Nursing has changed over the years. When I started the masters direct entry program in 2005, we were in the Georgian Building, an older building on campus, and, during my second year of the PhD program, we moved to the new, seven-story building. My children have grown up around the campus, and seeing the new building through their eyes, especially the roof top garden, makes me particularly happy. Green space in New York City is always a joy.