Southern Union students buck the trend:
While you might think a student should go to a big school to advance in the health sciences, Southern Union State Community College graduates each semester refute that narrative.
“Our nursing students, our surgical techs, our X-ray techs, our paramedics get our training here,” said Todd Shacklet, president of Southern Union State Community College. “They do their clinics, their preceptorships with hospitals, and they tend to stay.”
Morgan Lewis-Moore, registered nurse; Kelsi Smith, paramedic; and Justin Whitlow, a radiology technologist, are three examples of students who have been able to earn their Associate of Health Sciences degrees from Southern Union and take on much-needed medical jobs in the Opelika-Auburn area. The school provided them with practical training, clinics and helped them find jobs in their respective fields.
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“I really think the teachers at Southern Union really care about our education and care about how we’re going to be once we enter our professions,” said Smith, now a paramedic at East Alabama Health. “It made me want to help students who come here to do clinical studies to surpass themselves.”
Morgan Lewis Moore
Morgan Lewis-Moore works for East Alabama Health as a nursing manager at the Auburn Autonomous Emergency Department. She has been in her current position for three months and previously worked as a nurse supervisor for a year at the same location.
Lewis-Moore worked three full-time jobs as a single mother to support herself and her family while she attended Southern Union nursing school in Opelika. She graduated with an associate’s degree in nursing in December 2017. Morgan-Lewis says she had heard a lot of positive feedback about Southern Union’s nursing program and knew she wanted to attend.
“I always wanted to be a nurse and life just happened,” Lewis-Moore said. “I actually went to paramedic school at Southern Union first. And I did that, and I loved it, but I always knew that nursing was my calling.
Lewis-Moore was able to use Southern Union’s mobility program to transition into nursing. The program allows Licensed Practical Nursing or Paramedic students to transfer to the Southern Union Registered Nurses program.
“I passed my test to get my paramedic license and then I was able to start nursing school,” Lewis-Moore said. “And so instead of doing the whole five semesters, I only had to do three semesters.”
Lewis-Moore says that while the program was challenging, the practicality of Southern Union’s classes was especially helpful in preparing her for her career.
“They prepare you well for the job market,” she said. “What I’ve noticed is that sometimes in nursing you can explain things from the book, but you can’t really practice those skills. But I feel like Southern Union groomed me to use my skills.
Nursing jobs are in abundance right now, especially after the emergence of COVID-19. “We are fighting for nurses right now,” Lewis-Moore said. “It’s a great need, especially in our community.
Lewis-Moore said finding a job as a nurse after graduating wasn’t difficult at all.
“I started applying for jobs in the last semester,” she said. “I applied for three or four jobs. They gave them all to me, so it was just more about finding where I felt like home where I could best use my skills.
Lewis-Moore says there are many opportunities for advancement in nursing. She was promoted to a charge nurse position within the first year and a half of her career. She then began to see her own leadership aptitude and worked her way up to nurse manager.
“There’s a lot of room for advancement,” Lewis-Moore said. “People see nursing as patient care, but you can do so much more. »
Kelsi Smith, 23, is graduating from Southern Union State Community College in 2021 with her associate degree as a paramedic. She currently works with Emergency Technical Services through East Alabama Health in Opelika. She grew up in Orlando but has lived in the Opelika area for three years. Smith originally studied for her nursing degree, but changed to Southern Union’s paramedic program. She completed the program in five semesters.
“The teachers are very hands-on and they really care about your education,” Smith said. “They want you to succeed. Many of my teachers have said that I will try to get you through this class so that I feel comfortable with you coming to take care of my child or my parent, and that just shows that they care how we can help patients and interact with them.
According to Smith, the training she received through Southern Union gives students practical lessons that apply directly to their careers.
“I would say Southern Union is much more convenient than other colleges,” Smith said. “I feel like a lot of people now, especially in my generation, seem to be much more hands-on rather than reading it and learning it.”
Smith says Southern Union gave her many job opportunities once she graduated. Care Ambulance and Haynes Ambulance were both possibilities for her as well as East Alabama Health.
“A lot of people from Southern Union came up to talk to us or said, you know, if we ever need anything, we’re always welcome and they gave us options,” Smith said. She added that there is a huge need for paramedics in the area right now.
“There are a lot of full-time paramedics, but there are also part-time ones,” Smith said. “Even if we had more people working part-time or in school trying to get different types of degrees in addition to working, we could still use some help.”
Smith also says there are many options and opportunities to grow as a paramedic and in other medical fields.
“Being able to intubate people and having that experience and training can help you become a CRNA [Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist] too,” Smith said. “There are also flight doctors, critical care paramedics… there are a million different routes you can take in EMS itself. You can try to get a managerial position, supervisory positions.
“In all honesty, I had no interest in working on a truck and said I wouldn’t be picked up on a truck over my dead body,” Smith added. “As soon as I entered the basic program, I fell in love with it. I love being on the truck now and couldn’t imagine any other job.
Justin Whitlow, 22, is an X-ray technologist at East Alabama Medical Center. Whitlow started working at EAMC as a transporter – someone who transports patients around the hospital – when he started school at Southern Union. While he liked the job, Whitlow said he wanted to do more and became interested in radiology. He began his career as a tech student at EAMC in the spring of 2021. Whitlow became a registered Rad Tech after graduating from Southern Union in the spring of 2022 with his Associate of Applied Science in Radiological Technology.
“I was still at Southern Union when I decided to be Rad Tech,” Whitlow said. “I was undecided in my very first semester, then I applied to Rad Tech school, and I was not admitted. But I started taking the prerequisites the following semester and the following year , I was able to enter.”
The program itself is five semesters with clinics at the end. “Towards the end, you only go to class one day and that’s three days of clinics. It was great. I liked it,” Whitlow said. “You just had to study and you’d be fine. It wasn’t too bad.
Whitlow said the courses he took at Southern Union prepared him well for his Rad Tech career.
“Basically everything you learn is what you do on the job,” he said. “You go to clinics three times a week and it just prepares you for what you’re going to do each day.
“We take x-rays of patients,” Whitlow said. “We do fluoroscopy, which is where we look inside the body at the time you take the picture.”
One of his teachers, Buddy Galdwell, worked at EAMC for nearly 30 years. “Mr. Gladwell knew a lot about clinics, he had been doing it for so long,” Whitlow said. “He had a lot of stories about clinical stuff.”
When he started looking at schools, Whitlow said his original plan was to go to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. However, he noted that Southern Union was smaller and cheaper as a reason to go to school locally instead.
“You can figure out exactly what you want to do,” Whitlow said. “They can be a bit more practical because they are smaller and help you.”
Regarding opportunities in his field, Whitlow said there are different modalities. “There’s CT and MRI,” he says. “You should pass another register, it’s like the test you pass to become a registered technician. You have to go to class and get your MRI log and CT log too.
“It helped me: it just trains you for everything you have to do when you’re an x-ray technician,” Whitlow said.