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MDE-DNP Student Spotlight: Aaron Yagoda

Masters Direct Entry Program ’21

We began our nursing careers online, during a global pandemic, in a country reckoning with a wave of violent racism, and carried on. That’s really something.

After graduation, Aaron Yagoda plans to work as an RN in an inpatient setting, and will continue in the Doctor of Nursing Practice Family Nurse Practitioner program. He cared for COVID-19 patients this winter as a nurse technician, and helped administer COVID vaccines at the Armory.


Please tell us a little bit about yourself—where are you originally from, and what do you like to do in your spare time?
I grew up in Rochester, New York, then moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where I lived for about 10 years prior to coming to Columbia. In my spare time, I’m a big outdoors person and love hiking, biking, and other rhyming activities of the sort. Since moving to New York, I have tried to spend as much time as possible in Riverside and Central Park. I’m a fair-weather runner, and during the pandemic got more into yoga and baking at home.


Why did you decide to pursue nursing and why did you choose Columbia Nursing?
Before Columbia I studied public health and worked for some non-profits, government agencies, and eventually landed at a healthcare IT company. I really liked the mission of this work, but being more upstream I missed the one-to-one patient interaction I had while I was a nursing assistant in college. Nursing allows me to incorporate my public health background in a more frontline, hands-on career where I can see my immediate impact.

I applied to a variety of direct entry RN-NP accelerated programs but chose Columbia for its broad range of clinical experience. The clinical hours offered far exceeded others and the final integration experience seemed unparalleled. I also really responded to the idea of immersion-style pedagogy in our clinical rotations, where our didactic courses and clinicals were in sync. I loved the idea of taking advantage of the school’s global experiences as well, so I’m hoping to participate in a non-COVID future.


How has the pandemic shaped your feelings about becoming a nurse
I think fear would be a normal reaction for anyone entering the field of nursing during a global pandemic. However, my adrenaline-seeking personality kind of missed that memo, and the pandemic further solidified my passion for nursing. Watching true heroes on the front line was a huge motivator for me, and I actually felt guilty or disappointed that I was on the sidelines last spring. With Columbia’s help I was fortunate enough to work as a patient care technician at NewYork-Presbyterian this winter, where I was able to put those feelings of service to good use with COVID-positive patients during such an unprecedented era.


How has your Columbia Nursing education and experience prepared you to deal with the pandemic?
In reality, infection control and proper PPE have now become everyday fundamentals for the general public, so our education definitely followed suit. However, in terms of clinical experience, one of the absolute highlights of my year has been administering the COVID vaccine at the Armory vaccination site. It was incredibly humbling to be a part of this wartime-like effort, and vaccinating really does make you feel like a part of history. In a time of perpetual isolation, this has been such a joyous health care interaction with patients. 


What are you passionate about, and how has being a student at Columbia Nursing allowed you to follow that passion?

I used to teach health workshops to high school students, so I have always been interested in health behaviors and education, particularly around sexual health and substance use. Clinically,

I’ve gravitated towards HIV and infectious disease work, but this year in the Masters Direct Entry (MDE) program I really loved the neurology and cardiology units in particular. Wherever I end up, I think my passion will lie in incorporating social determinants of health into my nursing practice, and addressing things like food, housing, and financial assistance in primary care settings. 


What’s your next step after you graduate?
I’m hoping to work as an RN next year in an inpatient unit, but the jury’s still out on exactly what setting. I will also be continuing on in the DNP Family Nurse Practitioner program. In the long term, I’m hoping to work as a primary care provider with underserved communities, perhaps in the federally qualified health center space.


Do you have a favorite memory of your time at Columbia Nursing?
I was always shocked when we learned about something in class then saw it immediately in the clinicaI setting. I vividly remember learning about spinal taps in class on a Monday and getting to observe the procedure on Wednesday in clinical, which just blew my mind. However, nothing compares to the privilege of being able to assist in childbirth, or the honor of providing post-mortem care to a patient who just passed away.


Is there anything you’d like to add?
My one regret was not being able to meet more of my classmates while our classes were virtual. Our cohort not only pushed me intellectually, but displayed remarkable resiliency this year in an already demanding program. We began our nursing careers online, during a global pandemic, in a country reckoning with a wave of violent racism, and carried on. That’s really something. 


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