Dream to be a Nurse

UTC program boosts workforce

By Cindy Carroll

Carla Thomas Ramsey approached her nursing education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga quietly. After she was accepted into a program designed to assist her academic success, she discovered it also helped her to interact more with others.

“I’ve always been somewhat of an introvert, but this program put people into my path that wanted to talk to me and help me, not only educationally but on a personal level as well. I discovered that, when I have people in my life who relate to me both academically and personally, I think, quite naturally, I want to form lasting relationships with them, and that in turn allows me the freedom to come out of my shell,” says Ramsey (Chattanooga ’08).

DREAMWork, which stands for “Diversity Recruitment and Education to Advance Minorities in the nursing Workforce”, meant a lot to Ramsey and more than a dozen UTC nursing school graduates, all of whom are successfully working in the field.

The program began in 2007 with a grant of nearly $1 million for three years from the Health Resources and Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. UTC was funded again for a second three-year cycle in 2010, and the program is currently in its sixth and final year.

Many of the students who qualified needed extra help with math and science classes. Some were the first in their family to attend college.

“From placing mentors in my path to equipping me with reading materials that taught me how to study, I walked away from UTC’s nursing program and the DREAMWork program knowing what kind of learner I was,” Ramsey says.

Her work since 2009 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center elicits superlative descriptions from Dr. Sunil Geevarghese (’90), a fellow UTC alumnus. Geevarghese serves as director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Clinical Trial Office.

“Carla has been an outstanding member of the team, offering deep expertise in regulatory compliance while clinical research is conducted on human subjects,” Geevarghese says.

Her role has included management of enrollment of a trial from screening to completion, evaluation of clinical data and compliance with protocols and clinical objectives. She’s also taught nurses these procedures. Ramsey currently serves as lead coordinator working on contracts, budgets and regulatory materials for the studies the department manages.

“There is no question about it; the preparation Carla received at UTC has paid handsome dividends in her position,” Geevarghese says.

It’s the kind of compliment Martina Harris loves to hear. As project director of DREAMWork, Harris knows the importance of strengthening student academic performance. She also demanded these students earn their small monthly stipend. They have been required to file written reports to explain how they are faring at school and at home so that she can help with a problem before it becomes too large. Students must take time to enjoy a pizza get-together once a month, just to blow off a little steam. DREAMWork students also must participate in two community service projects approved by nursing faculty. For instance, Marissa Thompson, who will graduate this month, chose to care for the feet of homeless people at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen. She’s thankful for professors like Harris.

“There is always someone there to help with time management. It’s not just the tutors. I felt there was always someone to talk to who could help,” Thompson says.

While DREAMWork encourages racially diverse students, there are others who also benefited from the program.
James Folkner (Chattanooga ’09) was accepted into the DREAMWork program because he’s a guy. At the time he was pursuing his undergraduate degree in nursing, he was one of only three. Now he’s set to graduate this month with a master’s degree to be a family nurse practitioner.

Just as women are often more comfortable in the care of a female nurse, Folkner believes men are often more relaxed with a male nurse and will tell a man about symptoms they are embarrassed to tell a woman.

A latecomer to the DREAMWork program, Folkner, home schooled and a native of Red Bank, Tenn., benefited from the stipend and the multi-cultural approach of DREAMWork.

“We had students who were American Indian, African-American and Hispanic. This exposure was very helpful to me. In my nurse practitioner classes, we learned a lot about working with other cultures. I already had some experience,” Folkner says.

Students in DREAMWork thrive in a diverse environment with rigorous academic preparation, the hallmark of the UTC School of Nursing.

“All graduates from UTC nursing come with motivation and commitment to patient care,” says Geevarghese. “In some ways, as a fellow graduate, I have higher expectations because I know they received an excellent education.”