Our Nurse of the Week is Tarah Foster Akard, a pediatric palliative care researcher at Vanderbilt University who is working to improve coping and adjustment for children with life-threatening illnesses. Akard knew from a young age that she would pursue a job in healthcare, but she also had a passion for softball and had to deal with criticism that pursuing both at the college level wouldn’t work. Now she’s using life skills she learned from playing softball to help young children.

Akard grew up in Tennessee near Vanderbilt. Her favorite subject in school growing up was science, and she knew early on she wanted a job related to healthcare. However, her main goal when deciding where to go to college was to play Division 1 softball so she ended up attending Jacksonville State University in Alabama on an athletic scholarship.

Looking back on her undergraduate years, Akard says being a student athlete defined her experience. It taught her to be self-disciplined, how to collaborate with a team, and how to manage her time, all skills that she now uses in her nursing research career. Even though softball season often caused Akard to miss her classes, she was still making A’s in biology and felt drawn to it even though she couldn’t see a career in it.

After deciding to major in biology anyway, Akard then went on to pursue her master of science in nursing degree at Vanderbilt and became a pediatric nurse practitioner. She returned to her hometown to work in pediatric primary care for a few years which became the foundation of the rest of her career and led her to return to Vanderbilt to earn her PhD and become a researcher. Akard tells VanderbiltHustler.com:

“I originally went to nursing school to work children with life-threatening illnesses. I loved seeing 20-30 patients a day (in primary care), but I wanted to do something where I could have that creativity to think of a question, develop a study to answer it, and then disseminate that knowledge to have a greater impact.”

Akard is currently in her third year of a four-year study researching how to improve coping and adjustment for children with life-threatening illnesses. Her study uses web-based intervention that requires participants to create an electronic scrapbook of their lives. Her job gives her the perfect balance of being able to help children and families going through serious illnesses, while also mentoring and guiding students. Akard encourages students interested in healthcare to “shoot high” when reaching for their goals.

To learn more about Akard and her career as a nursing researcher studying ways to improve life-threatening illnesses for children, visit here.

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