PhD nursing science student: going the distance from a distance

In March of 2020, Yennuten Paarima was thrilled to learn of his acceptance into Washington University’s PhD in Nursing Science program. This joint program offered by Goldfarb School of Nursing and Washington University launched in fall 2020 and enrolled an initial cohort of three students.

Paarima quickly made plans to leave his position as an assistant lecturer in the Department of Research, Education and Administration at the School of Nursing & Midwifery at the University of Ghana (as well as his clinical practice as a nurse), to pursue his PhD in St. Louis. Traveling to St. Louis would be his first trip outside of Africa, and as another first, he would be a member of the inaugural cohort of this new program. 

By late spring, it became clear that travel restrictions and the inability to secure a visa due to the pandemic would not allow for Paarima to move to St. Louis for this full-time, in-person program. Paarima was eager to begin the program as The University of Ghana had already approved his leave for the duration of the intended program. When WashU pivoted to deliver the program remotely, Paarima was unsure how the time difference and technology challenges would allow him to be successful remotely. Putting his hesitations aside, he began the 10-credit hour program last fall, all while continuing his position as an assistant lecturer in Ghana.

Paarima's area of interest is informatics, specifically electronic health records and their impact on patient care. Before applying in 2020, Paarima researched leaders in this field and contacted Dr. Po-Yin Yen, Associate Professor at Goldfarb School of Nursing and Associate Professor in the Institute for Informatics at Washington University’s School of Medicine. Dr. Yen’s work had garnered Paarima's attention and interest in the program, and Paarima was elated to hear back from this highly-accomplished professor who enthusiastically encouraged Paarima to apply and offered to be his mentor for the program. An amazing mentor-mentee relationship grew from this email exchange, bridging the 5,800-mile gap between them.

During his first semester, at the recommendation of Dr. Yen, Paarima attended his first online symposium, The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) 2020 Annual Symposium. “It would have taken me a full year to learn what I learned in a couple of days, and the connections I made are unbelievable,” said Paarima. Dr. Yen continues to meet with Paarima every week, assigning him readings and reviewing his work at each meeting. “She is an incredible mentor, guiding me, challenging me, pushing me and wanting the best for me, all while exposing me to new opportunities along the way,” says Paarima of Dr. Yen. After weekly zoom check-in meetings, Dr. Yen helped Paarima modify and refine his dissertation topic. This refinement helped Paarima discover an area of opportunity focusing on the Impact of Electronic Records on Nursing Workflow. Dr. Yen encouraged Paarima to submit an abstract on his research to the Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS). His abstract has since been accepted and Paarima will be presenting at the MNRS annual conference in March. He is also working on submitting an abstract to the AMIA 2021 Annual Symposium later in the year. “I would not be where I am today without the ongoing support of my mentor,” says Paarima.

Paarima talks about the many “firsts” he experienced this past year. The first time he was asked to speak at a conference. The first time his abstract was accepted to a major organization. And then there was the first time he almost missed class (as he was unfamiliar with the concept of daylight savings until he logged into an empty zoom an hour early.) It was the first time he managed a job, a rigorous, virtual 10-credit graduate course load, and a newborn. 

Paarima has made incredible strides this year and looks forward to attending in-person class in St. Louis and meeting his mentor and professors face-to-face. Beyond the incredible academic knowledge Paarima has gained, he has an entirely new perspective on the power of a mentor. It has forever changed the way he will engage with his own students back in Ghana. He has been able to succeed and grow due to his diligence and the devotion and unbelievable strength and support of his mentor and other faculty.