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ETMC Athens nurse awarded national prize for excellence

Tara Patton, an ICU staff nurse at ETMC Athens Tara Patton, an ICU staff nurse at ETMC Athens

America’s best right here in Athens

ETMC Athens nurse awarded national prize for excellence

By Toni Garrard Clay

As Tara Patton neared her fortieth birthday, she decided it was time for a change. She’d worked years for the criminal justice system, and though that was all well and fine, she kept thinking about her lifelong ambition to be a nurse.

So as the big 4-0 approached, the wife and mother of three quit her job and enrolled in nursing school at UT Tyler. She immediately secured a scholarship from ETMC Athens and went to work there as a patient care tech while attending classes.

“I had always wanted to be a nurse,” Patton said. “My husband understood the importance of pursuing my lifelong goals, for me and my family. The decision was not made lightly.”

Apparently, Patton’s leap of faith was well founded. This March, the publishing company Elsevier named her the National Grand Prize Winner for Excellence in Nursing among students. Elsevier, a leader in the publication of medical textbooks and references, asked nursing faculty members across the nation to nominate “the student who excels beyond academics. The one who leads by example. The one whose commitment and compassion can make a difference to nursing, patients and healthcare. The one you’d like to reward with more than a good grade.”

A panel of judges then picked the winner from among the many nominees.

“This is just wonderful,” beamed Melissa Lehman, nursing PI coordinator for ETMC Athens and Patton’s professional mentor. “The Elsevier website asks the question: ‘Is America's most dedicated nursing student on your campus?’ ETMC Athens can say, ‘Yes.’”

For her part, Patton is humbled by the accolade. “I am more than honored to be given this distinction among our nation’s nursing students,” she said.

Patton – who lives “just south of (tiny) downtown Montalba” – became a registered nurse in December and immediately went to work as a staff nurse on ETMC Athens’ eight-bed intensive care unit.

She started as a student nurse at the hospital in January 2004, spending most of her time with the second floor medical/surgical unit. She also did several clinicals with the ICU unit and knew they would have positions available when she graduated.

“There’s a big team atmosphere on this unit,” said Patton, “and I knew a lot of the nurses here would be good mentors. I really wanted that.”

Jill Bandy, an ICU charge nurse, describes Patton as “very easy to work with.”

“Her experience with life in general is a big positive,” said Bandy.

As if working a rotating shift from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. isn’t enough – “I’m still on a learning curve,” she admits – Patton also has a self-described passion for promoting the image of the nursing profession in general. To that end, she launched a successful campaign last year to claim a seat on the board of directors for the National Student Nurses Association.

Patton was among a delegation of NSNA members from UT Tyler to attend the annual convention in Utah. The group was among 3,500 nursing students in attendance. Once Patton learned there were board vacancies, she started rounding up support, going head-to-head against three other candidates.

“I wanted to do this because it enables a person to become involved at a high level regarding professionalism in nursing and in the political arena,” she said.

Upon election, Patton became the editor of Imprint magazine, which is delivered bimonthly to the 47,000 NSNA members.

To get the job done, Patton meets periodically with other board members and handles most of the magazine production work through email and postal communications.

“Through the New York office, I get mail every week with magazine article submissions from students and professionals,” she explained. “I accept them or reject them and work on edits.” She also makes decisions regarding art and design.

The extra work is worth it for Patton.

“This is a real passion of mine,” she said. “Less than 10 percent of nurses in Texas are involved in a professional nurses association. That tells me we have a lot of work to do. That’s a huge number of nurses who aren’t involved in advocating for ourselves as nurses. …

“As a student, it became obvious to me that while nursing is a respected profession, we still have work to do in terms of being valued professionally among some other healthcare workers.”

Patton also views her position on the NSNA board as an opportunity to advance the use of mentoring programs as teaching tools for new nurses, which ETMC Athens already embraces.

“Mentoring is huge in nursing,” she said. “It starts as a student with faculty mentors and continues after that. It’s so important that new grads and experienced nurses are paired together.”

Lehman, Patton’s mentor, said she “jumped at the opportunity” to bring Patton on full-time.

“As a student, Tara was always wonderful with patients and worked well with others,” said Lehman. “She’s always caring, always thinking of what is the best practice for a specific task.”

Patton credits in no small part, the scholarship she received from the ETMC Athens Auxiliary, which covered the cost of her books, and the hospital’s tuition reimbursement scholarship.

“The scholarship alleviated a lot of financial strain,” said Patton. “It took some of the burden off my family.”

In return for its investment, ETMC Athens can now lay claim to some serious bragging rights.

Lehman put it succinctly: “To have America’s best right here in Athens is just really something.”

 

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