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“The Only True Failure Is Not to Try”: Graduate student credits mentors, desire to help others for her success

Posted: May 17, 2013

Janiece Walker with Dr. Tracie Harrison

Janiece Walker meets with Dr. Tracie Harrison, her mentor and
doctoral committee chair.

From the time she was a little girl, Janiece Walker, RN, MSN, liked to take care of people. Whenever her brothers didn’t feel well or got back from a visit to the dentist, she was there to soothe and comfort them — whether they wanted her to or not.

When she was still in high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Walker became a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and volunteered with nursing groups in the area. She also worked in long-term care centers as she attended New Mexico State University, where she received a registered nurse licensure and a bachelor’s of science in nursing.

After obtaining a master’s of science in nursing in 2009, the doctoral student is currently finishing up her dissertation “Predictors of Disability in Older African American Women with Osteoarthritis.” She is examining what factors contribute to disability, which she hopes will lead to an intervention study to improve outcomes for this population and possibly enhance the quality of their life.

“I have a passion for helping aging populations,” Walker explains. “The aging process, especially when combined with disabilities, is not being researched enough.”

Part of the reason for her interest in older women with disabilities may be because her own mother suffers from osteoarthritis, and Walker grew up observing how difficult it was for her to perform some of the simplest tasks.

Her research is not going unnoticed: Walker recently received a National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Nursing Research predoctoral fellowship, which included a grant of $46,000. This prestigious two-year award will further her education and research and help fund her travels to Duke University, where she works with Keith Whitfield, PhD and vice provost.

Whitfield, along with Tracie Harrison, PhD, RN, FNP and associate professor of Adult Health Nursing; Alexa Stuifbergen, PhD, RN, FAAN and dean; Carole Holhan, PhD and professor; and Cherie Simpson, PhD, MBA, RN, CNS and assistant professor, all at the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing, make up Walker’s doctoral committee.

Last August, Walker received a John A. Hartford Award for $100,000, and recently that foundation notified her of their decision to give her a May Day award, which provides additional financial support for including the study of pain in her research.

According to Harrison, a 2011–12 Health and Aging Policy Fellow through the Atlantic Philanthropies and Walker’s mentor at the UT Austin School of Nursing, Walker has a stellar future ahead of her.

“As I’ve taught and worked with Janiece over the past three years, I’ve grown increasingly confident in her ability to make a difference in the lives of the nation’s aging population,” said Harrison. “Her research is not only important, but necessary.”

For Walker, finishing her doctoral program in aging seems like completing the circle she began as a young LPN in the long-term care center. As a result of her studies, she knows she can begin to make a difference for people like the first residents she cared for at the bedside. She also recognizes that without a solid doctoral program like the one at UT Austin School of Nursing and the mentors there and at Duke University, it would have been a much more difficult journey.

“It’s so important to have good mentors,” Walker said. “Without them to steer you, it’s so easy to wander aimlessly.”

For others who might be considering undertaking an advanced nursing degree, Walker says it’s important that they never doubt their calling: “The only true failure is not to try.”