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Student Life: Q&A with a Rising ‘Star’

Staja Booker

In only a few short weeks into the fall 2012 semester, the research of Staja Booker has been getting nationally noticed. It could even be said that Booker, a first-year student in the College of Nursing’s PhD program, has a bright future in front of her—so it’s fitting that she has been nicknamed “Star” nearly all of her life.

“Star is really starting off with a bang,” said Keela Herr, PhD, RN, AGSF, FAAN, and Booker’s advisor. “In only her first semester as a PhD student, she is presenting at several key conferences that are important to her work in aging, pain and nursing research.”

This fall, Booker, a Dean Fellow, is presenting at: The Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science (CANS); The Gerontological Society of America (GSA); the National Gerontological Nurses Association (NGNA); and most recently, she was notified that her abstract titled Reducing Pain Disparities in African Americans: Setting the Education, Practice, and Research Agenda has been selected for poster presentation at the NIH-NIMHD sponsored Science of Eliminating Health Disparities Summit.  

Star Booker recently took time out of her busy schedule to talk about when she developed an interest in nursing, her experience thus far at UI, and where her career path might lead.

Q: When (and why) did you decide you wanted to become a nurse? 
A: I decided to become a nurse in high school after participating in several health sciences summer programs and after completing the certified nurses' assistant course in high school. I found that I loved learning about biology of the body and the role nurses played in providing care to persons with illnesses. Plus I loved helping my grandmother manage her diabetes (monitoring her glucose, giving her insulin shots, planning meals, etc.).
Q: What made you want to further your education and go for your PhD?
A: Several reasons influenced my decision to pursue a PhD. One, I wanted to continue my journey toward a teaching and research career. I like teaching undergraduate students on care of older adults. Secondly, I want to be an inspiration to other minority nurses and nursing students … to show that we can achieve higher degrees and make significant contributions to nursing science and care. Lastly, I wanted to challenge myself. I want to contribute to advancing the profession, and having a PhD will provide a platform to help me make true changes in nursing. Getting my PhD is also a tribute to my family … to show them that I appreciate all that they have done for me.
Q: Why did you choose the University of Iowa to pursue your PhD?
A: I chose UI because it is nationally recognized as having one of the best graduate nursing programs in the country. I also wanted to be able to work with Dr. Herr.
Q: How would you describe your educational experience here at UI?
A: Well it's only been a few weeks but so far it's been good. I can see that I will be challenged intellectually and will be given great opportunities to move my career forward. I do like how UI as a university supports minority students and provides opportunities to make connections.
Q: What areas of research are you most interested in?
A: I am interested in understanding older African American's perceptions and beliefs concerning chronic and intermittent non-malignant pain and how those beliefs influence the way in which they manage their pain.
Q: How do you foresee using your research throughout your career?
A: I hope that my research as a PhD student can help advance my long-term goal of identifying more culturally-appropriate and acceptable pain treatment practices/strategies for older African Americans. I hope it will improve quality of life in this population. I would also like to make a positive impact in ethnogeriatric care.
Q: What are some of your other professional interests and goals?
A: I am also interested in ways to increase the number of minorities in nursing as well as opportunities to showcase their nursing skills. A personal long-term career goal includes teaching an undergraduate gerontological nursing course in a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) or wherever else I can make an impact.
Q: Do you see yourself getting involved in other facets of the nursing profession? 
A: I'm sure I will … I’m just not sure which aspects. Nursing is so diverse and there are so many opportunities for nurses. Maybe I’ll become a nurse entrepreneur. My sister is an Occupational Therapist and I always joke about different health care ventures we are going to partner in. I am still early in my nursing career so I am taking things as they come.
Q: You will be participating in a number of poster presentations this fall. What do you expect to take away from presenting at these key conferences?
A: Yes, I have the opportunity to present at four conferences this semester. Upon learning that my abstract was accepted for each one, I was in total shock; nervous; and extremely happy … because this means that I can begin to show health professionals and the public my perspective of research regarding older African Americans and pain disparities.
Q: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
A: Five years from now I hope to have completed my PhD and to have started a teaching/research career.
Q: What advice would you give to incoming students?
A: Have an open mind, and never pass up opportunities. Find professional and personal activities that will make you happy. Be humble! I believe humility will provide you with an immense amount of opportunity. I think Philippians 2:3 sums it up best: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility… .”

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About UI’s PhD Program
The Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing program prepares scholars to conduct research in nursing, extend the knowledge base relevant to nursing, and collaborate in interdisciplinary research with other scholars. Graduates of the program are prepared for careers in research, education or administration and as leaders in the profession. For more information, visit

Posted On: 
Sep 11th, 2012