Today it's hard to miss the sparkle in Katie Clark's eyes when she talks about nursing and her love for caregiving.
"I’m doing what I feel like I’m being called to do," said Clark before graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Palm Beach Atlantic University on May 5.
In reflecting on her PBA experience and how she sort of fell into nursing by accident, the small town girl from Shenandoah, Virginia is convinced it was God’s design for her life all along even though she didn't know that early on.
The decision to trust God’s leading took Clark from a self-described average student in high school to a top achiever in college with a 3.9 GPA. Her academic success at PBA came as a surprise to her parents who recalled how disinterested in college she had been at first.
“It kind of grew on her so we really never expected her to blossom as much as she has in college," her mother, Luann Clark, said on the eve of her graduation.
"It makes you feel great," added her father, Michael Clark, proudly.
During PBA's spring commencement festivities, the 22-year-old was recognized as the outstanding graduate from the School of Nursing's 2018 graduating class of 55.
“I knew I wanted to get the best grades I [could] because one day I was going to be taking care of patients and if I [didn’t] know this information I just felt like I was going to be an incompetent nurse,” recalled Clark of her motivation to succeed. “So I knew from the very start it’s all-in or basically nothing.”
Now she’s preparing for a new chapter in July: a nurse residency program at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina where she’ll receive specialized training in pediatrics, pediatric intensive care and pediatric cardiac care.
“Her academic record, her community service, leadership, clinical performance and stellar attitude and teamwork, speak for themselves,” said Dr. Joanne Masella, the School of Nursing’s dean in honoring Clark as its top graduate.
The Duke residency will build on other practical experiences Clark gained while at PBA, which included a 15-day trauma intensive care senior nursing program at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach that she finished just weeks before graduating.
“My time at PBA was busy, fun and tremendously tough,” said Clark before graduation. “Nursing school is a very vigorous program. It takes a lot of dedication…You have to be motivated, you have to be willing to sacrifice things. I was one of those students who had to work hard.”
But even as she kept focus on studies, Clark was unselfish with what little spare time she had, often using it to tutor her classmates and volunteer in the community. While at PBA, she logged nearly 600 hours of community service working in the food ministry and children’s programs at nearby Family Church and with other local organizations. She also devoted time on campus to student health education and participated on a mission trip to El Salvador.
“[Clark] is hardworking, determined, self-sacrificing, and eager to help anyone she crosses paths with.” said Comfort Olugbuyi, PBA’s Bridges Scholar Program and First-Year advisor, who stood witness to her journey and provided support and friendship along the way. “Her kindness extends beyond the PBA walls and not only benefits the West Palm Beach community, but mankind all together…No matter the obstacle ahead, [she] finds a way to overcome it and forge ahead.”
Forging ahead with her nursing education is exactly what Clark is aiming to do.
“I want to continue learning,” said Clark, who was attracted to her new job at Duke University Hospital because it’s a teaching institution. “I just value learning now and it’s like I just can’t get enough.”