Wanting More

Story and Photos by Leigh Ann Roman

Alondra Gonzalez Mireles in her green UTHSC scrubs.

Alondra Gonzalez Mireles

For years, Alondra Gonzalez Mireles envisioned a future in which she was wearing a white coat and caring for patients.

As valedictorian of her Memphis high school and a Clarence Day Scholar at Rhodes College, Gonzalez Mireles planned to become a physician. But she learned during college that Tennessee law prevents Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) residents from practicing as physicians.

A DACA resident is a person who resides in the United States but was born elsewhere and came to the U.S. as a child. A new Tennessee law passed in 2022, however, opened the door for DACA residents to obtain commercial and professional licenses, including nursing.

A partnership program through the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Nursing has given Gonzalez Mireles the opportunity to achieve her dream of a career as a health care professional despite the obstacles presented by her status as a DACA resident.

Rhodes is one of 10 schools in the UTHSC College of Nursing’s Partnership Enrollment Program (PEP), which is designed to increase access to nursing programs for students.

Thanks to the partnership with Rhodes, Gonzalez Mireles, 22, entered the 12-month accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at UTHSC in August 2023 and will graduate in August 2024.

“Rhodes is well known for preparing students for medical school, but I looked into nursing and saw that I could branch out once I became a registered nurse. I could go into any specialty,” Gonzalez Mireles says. “I definitely have a strong belief that God puts us on the path we are supposed to be on. I think he steered me to a nursing career and UTHSC.”

Because Rhodes is a partner school, the application process and transition to UTHSC was very smooth, she says.

“I feel like the partnership with UTHSC took the stress off applying to multiple schools and those policies surrounding my specific situation. It was the only school I applied to, and I got my acceptance two weeks after submitting my application. I just knew that UTHSC would be the place for me.”

After practicing as a registered nurse, Gonzalez Mireles plans to return to school to obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree and work as a nurse practitioner. The UTHSC College of Nursing offers eight DNP concentrations and three dual DNP concentrations. UTHSC has the most highly ranked program in Tennessee on the U.S. News & World Report listing of BSN programs, where it is ranked No. 31 nationally. The UTHSC DNP program is ranked No. 23 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

Over the last year, the UTHSC College of Nursing has doubled the number of its partner schools from five to 10.

Kendree Collier wearing a gray UTHSC Nursing sweater.
Kendree Collier

“As the nursing shortage continues and was exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, it is critical we remove obstacles and create clear pathways into nursing for qualified applicants,” says UTHSC College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes. “Our partnerships are designed to do just that as well as to provide opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to enter into our profession in a seamless fashion. I look forward to the growth of our partnership enrollment program and strengthening our relationships with our partner institutions with the goal of decreasing the nursing shortage for Tennessee and beyond.”

Students from partner schools are guaranteed admission to UTHSC’s undergraduate nursing program if they meet certain requirements, including attaining a 3.0 overall GPA and completing prerequisite courses. Some schools partner with UTHSC only for the accelerated, 12-month BSN program. Some partner with UTHSC for just the traditional BSN, and some partner with UTHSC for both.

In fall 2023, 15 of the entering undergraduate nursing students came to UTHSC from partner schools. One of them was Kendree Collier, 32, who came to UTHSC’s traditional BSN through LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis.

Kendree Collier, left, receives the Chancellor's Diversity Scholarship from UTHSC Nursing Dean Wendy Likes.
Kendree Collier, left, receives the Chancellor’s Diversity Scholarship from UTHSC Nursing Dean Wendy Likes.

Collier graduated near the top of her class at Millington Central High School and had a full scholarship to Christian Brothers University. Neither of her parents had graduated from high school, she says.

“I always had a sense of wanting more.” She knew she wanted to be a nurse after aiding family members in need.

“I found intrinsic joy when I helped,” Collier says.

But problems, including domestic violence and, later, an unplanned pregnancy, derailed her educational journey for several years, she says. She earned a business degree from Southwest Tennessee Community College but still held onto the dream of nursing. She returned to school at LeMoyne-Owen to attain a bachelor’s degree in biology and learned of the partnership program there.

“I have always admired UT from afar. The chance to be a part of that excellence sold me,” she says.

Now a mother of four, Collier works overnight as a specimen processer in the lab at Methodist University Hospital and is a full-time nursing student. She is on track to graduate in two years through the traditional BSN at UTHSC.

“My faith got me to this grateful place. Every obstacle and tragedy I have experienced was necessary to be here,” she says “My children and husband have been everything I could ask for in a support system. From the PEP to the scholarships I’ve received from alumni and donors, to the warm, embracing attitude from professors and classmates, I’ve been given a road map to aid in my nursing journey. We really can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”

Partnership Enrollment Program Schools

UTHSC’s partner schools for the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program:

Rhodes College
University of the South
UT Southern

Partner schools for the traditional BSN:

Southwest Tennessee Community College
Northwest Mississippi Community College
Arkansas State University Mid-South
Dyersburg State Community College

Schools that partner with UTHSC for both BSN options:

LeMoyne-Owen College
Lane College

UTHSC also has a partnership agreement with Dillard University to provide graduate programs in nursing.