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Portrait of Nursing student Paige Clark created

While most students do their studying in the library or at home, for four years Paige Clark did hers in a dressing room between clogging shows at the Comedy Barn Theatre and the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Feud in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

“I’ve been clogging for 16 years. When I turned 18, I got a call to audition for an open full-time position, and I was hired. Everyone knows if it’s during the school year, my laptop is going to be open and there are going to be books everywhere,” said Clark, of Knoxville.

A senior in nursing, Clark worked two jobs, sometimes putting in more than 60 hours a week performing.

“I lived two completely polar opposite lives of excelling in academic and professional entertainment at the same time. Even through all the crying, mental breakdowns, show business drama, and late nights, I knew where I ultimately wanted to be in life. I know it’s discouraging, but it’s how it has to be to pay the bills.”

Paige Clark, right, on stage during a performance at The Comedy Barn.
Paige Clark, right, on stage during a performance at The Comedy Barn.

She is working not only to pay for her education but also to support her family.

In Clark’s first year at UT, her grandparents divorced after 49 years of marriage, and her grandmother was close to losing her house. Clark was the only one in the family able to get a loan to help her grandmother and purchase the home. So she started working—two jobs, six nights a week—in addition to her schoolwork and clinicals.

“On days I have a clinical, I go to the hospital from about 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. I drive straight to Pigeon Forge and am home from work around 11 p.m. I do my paperwork and get up and do it again the next morning,” explained Clark. “This is what I’m used to.”

Clark, whose mother is a nurse, always knew she wanted to be in the medical field, but her family pushed her toward becoming a doctor. She knew nursing was the career for her, however.

“I felt the nursing career was calling my name since it’s so people orientated. The ability to connect with patients, especially children, beyond their diagnosis is so empowering to me.”

Clark pushed through the long, tireless hours because she knew the experience would bring out the best in her—and it did.

Clark, left, stands with her grandmother.
Paige Clark, left, stands with her grandmother.

During her time in the program, Clark remained actively involved in the College of Nursing, serving as an ambassador and the merchandise chair for the Student Nurses Association and pursuing research in aromatherapy for pediatric chemotherapy patients’ nausea symptoms—all while serving in her duties as Miss Knoxville USA.

Clark had a little extra help in her senior year as the recipient of the College of Nursing’s NightinGala scholarship, affording her the opportunity to buy books, gas, and a much-needed laptop.

She hung up her clogs in April to prepare for final exams. After graduation, Clark will prepare to take the National Council Licensure Examination before she begins work as a pediatric nurse at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville.

She will begin trials for her aromatherapy research at the hospital and hopes to publish her findings in the fall.

True to form, Clark isn’t slowing down.

In August, she begins the online doctoral nurse practitioner dual-track program of acute and primary care pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University.

“The past four years at UT have definitely prepared me for my next four at Johns Hopkins. I feel that I received a well-rounded education before I started my nursing-specific courses. I was able to get involved and grow my leadership skills. I would not be where I am or who I have become without the help and guidance of the College of Nursing.”

This spring, the university will award approximately 4,825 degrees—3,548 undergraduate degrees, 1,065 graduate degrees and certificates, 121 law degrees, and 91 veterinary medicine degrees. Additionally, 17 Air Force ROTC cadets will be commissioned along with 22 Army ROTC cadets. Five socially-distanced commencement ceremonies will take place in Neyland Stadium. See the commencement website for details.

CONTACT:

Kara Clark (865-974-9498, kmclark2@utk.edu)