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Hongjin Li (BSN 2013)

Dr. Hongjin Li is a source of hope for breast cancer survivors everywhere. Hongjin earned a BSN at the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 2013, an MS in biostatistics from Columbia University and a PhD in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh. Today, she is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Cancer Center in Chicago, specializing in genomic and metabolomic tools to better understand psychoneurological symptoms experienced by breast cancer survivors and therapies for treatment-related symptoms.

Hongjin was initially introduced to UMSL by Rensheng Luo, a friend of her mother who works as a research associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the university. She ultimately decided to enroll in the College of Nursing and credited the BSN program with giving her a solid background and foundation for her career, providing hands-on experience through clinics at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and mentoring her in evidence-based research. Her professors were also encouraging, as Hongjin was the only international student in her cohort.

Hongjin Li

“I had a lot of trouble with the language and terminology at the beginning,” she said. “They helped me overcome this difficulty.”

When she graduated with her BSN from UMSL in 2013, she knew she wanted to pursue nursing research, and sought ways to further develop her skillset as a researcher through education and experience.

She is currently studying the potential role of acupuncture to alleviate the pain, fatigue, depression or anxiety that most breast cancer survivors experience to some degree during and after endocrine therapy. She has received funding from the American Cancer Society, the Sigma Theta Tau International research award and the Heilbrunn research award from Rockefeller University and is a member of the Midwest Nursing Research Society, Oncology Nursing Society and Sigma Theta Tau International.

Her research focus has a personal connection. While pursuing her BSN at UMSL in 2009, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She took a temporary leave from school to return home to the Hubei province of China and care for her mother. She saw firsthand how acupuncture alleviated her mother’s symptoms and knew she wanted to devote her work within the nursing field to examining how the treatment could be used to help other patients.