Graham’s guidance creates path for aspiring nurses
By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor
It was a little over eight years ago when Scherry Graham first learned about the opportunity to teach nursing courses in Daniel Boone High School’s Career Technical Education (CTE) program. With 30 years of nursing experience under her belt, Graham was an attractive candidate for the position.
Her initial response was to turn the job down, but Graham had a change of heart and decided she wanted to hear more about the opportunity. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to teach high school kids,’ ” Graham recalled. “Then I said, ‘Back up. Tell me about it.’ ”
She liked what she heard and eventually gave the folks at Daniel Boone the answer they were looking for. In the eight years since she became a teacher, Graham has helped countless students explore the possibilities that are available in nursing. Some students take her nursing services courses and find out the profession isn’t for them. Others find a calling and are given the tools to start working the day they graduate.
“I wish every healthcare provider started at a basic level instead of going straight into a four-year program, because at this level they learn care and compassion,” Graham said. “At this level, this may be a career for somebody, or it may be a stepping stone.”
Graham says she always knew she wanted to go into healthcare. Her father was the first medical director with the Washington County EMS and also worked with the rescue squad and fire department.
“We just kind of had that language growing up, so it was just a natural fit for me,” Graham said.
Graham’s road into nursing contained plenty of obstacles. In those days, she says, there were 200 people trying to get 20 clinical spots. When she couldn’t get one of those spots, she decided to enroll in a Licensed Practicing Nurse (LPN) program.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” Graham said. “It helped me with that bedside compassion and concern.”
Graham eventually went back to ETSU and was able to become a Registered Nurse in 1985. She worked mostly as a cardiac nurse at the Johnson City Medical Center, but followed several paths through the nursing profession.
When she finally accepted the offer to teach at Daniel Boone, she quickly became dedicated to helping young people take their own first steps toward working in the healthcare field. Boone’s Health Science department offers a Nursing Services program of study that can help students become OSHA certified nursing assistants.
Likewise, the Therapeutic Services program of study can help young people get certified as clinical nursing assistants and pharmacy technicians, giving them an opportunity to be hired upon graduation thanks to their industry certifications.
The current shortage of healthcare workers has opened the door of opportunity even earlier for Graham’s students. Students can be hired as nursing assistants at 17 years old as long as they are within six months of graduation.
“They are actively recruiting them as we speak from Ballad and the long-term care facilities,” Graham said. “They’ve already set up appointments to come and speak to them to get them employed.”
When Breanna Shepherd learned about the opportunity to go to work right away, she couldn’t wait to ask Graham about it. A few hours later, she had received a letter from a potential employer that contained the bolded words, “We want to hire you.”
“Whenever I was given this opportunity to start now, I took it and ran with it because it’s a really good opportunity to get into it and get a head start,” Shepherd said. “I didn’t expect to start this early, but I’m super-excited.”
Like Graham, Shepherd’s desire to become a nurse began at home. She has been raised by her grandparents and witnessed the compassionate care her grandmother received from nurses while she was fighting cancer.
Shepherd’s ultimate goal is to become a labor and delivery nurse so she can be there for children from their first moments, especially the ones who are born addicted. Shepherd said she was born addicted and is inspired to make a difference for those children who are going through what she went through.
“They cry a lot more and they have withdrawals,” Shepherd said. “It’s really hard to see them go through that.
“Babies don’t have a voice at all. I want to step in and be the advocate for them when they have no one else.”
For Graham, stories like Shepherd’s make her glad she gave a slow yes instead of a quick no when the opportunity to teach arose.
“After 30 years of nursing, here I am,” Shepherd said. “It’s been a great journey.”