Mi Ja Kim: Rewarding successful research
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When Mi Ja Kim applied to get a master’s degree from the UIC College of Nursing in 1971, she got an unexpected counter-offer in the mail: Would she like to earn a PhD in physiology instead?
“I was a critical care nurse,” she said. “I never thought that I would do a PhD in physiology. Never in a million years.”
After the shock wore off, she began to seriously consider the proposition. At the time, the College of Nursing did not offer a doctorate, and Kim saw the physiology program as a pathway to her dream of becoming a nursing professor.
Four years later, with her doctorate in hand, she took her first job teaching in the UIC College of Nursing. That kicked off a 38-year, achievement-studded career, which included winning $12 million in extramural research funding; serving UIC as dean of the College of Nursing, Vice Chancellor for Research, and dean of the Graduate College; receiving Alumni Achievement Awards from the University of Illinois and from Yonsei University; joining a White House review group for healthcare reform; and being named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing.
Kim, PhD, RN, FRCN, FAAN, credits the UIC College of Nursing for her illustrious career, saying it’s where she “grew up.” Because of that, she chose in 2018 to create the Dr. Mi Ja Kim Endowed Faculty Research Award. It’s the college’s first endowed fund to recognize faculty research.
The Kim Award confers three years of research funding to a faculty member with notable research accomplishments, and a new recipient will be selected every three years.
The award “symbolizes the love my husband and I have for the college and for its mission and vision to educate nurses to become leaders in academia, practice, healthcare and society at large,” she said at a Nov. 8 reception, honoring both Kim and College of Nursing professor Laurie Quinn, PhD ’96, RN, FAAN, FAHA, CDE, who is the inaugural recipient of the new award.
The award could be given to a researcher on any faculty track, but the key criteria is that the candidate has “accomplished something that is of significance to the science of nursing,” says Kim.
At the heart of her motivation for creating the award is Kim’s notion that researchers who are changing the face of heathcare should be rewarded. She notes that people outside academia might mistakenly believe that groundbreaking researchers get bonuses or significant pay increases.
“We need to let [these researchers] feel that they are appreciated,” she says, “to give them extra energy and extra confidence.”
Kim says it was important to her to give back to UIC. She hopes the gift will serve as inspiration for others – including the recipients of the award – to also give “when their time comes.”
“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” she says.