By Clare Bratten
NASHVILLE: JaMarcus Corlew is among the growing numbers of men who choose the nursing profession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 12% of registered nurses are men, up from 2.7% in 1970. Corlew recently graduated this May from a Registered Nurse (RN) degree at Western Kentucky University thanks to the Gary Woodward scholarship from the Ascension Saint Thomas Foundation.
“St. Thomas Ascension has a very robust scholarship program, and we recently established a new fund called the Gary Woodward scholarship created by Gary’s family as a memorial,” said Dan Thompson, Vice President of the Ascension Foundation.
“Gary was a long-term nurse at Ascension Saint Thomas West who unfortunately succumbed to complications with covid. JaMarcus was our first recipient, and he embodies the essence of our scholarship program,” said Thompson.
Although Corlew studied graphic design and photography, he was drawn to nursing after witnessing his grandmother’s medical problems.
“My grandmother was a diabetic and one day, while I was with her, she was cooking and a cast iron skillet that fell on her foot created a small scab. She went to the doctor that day and they didn’t really say anything about it — just to monitor it. After a few weeks, a month, that scab began to open — it became huge. My grandmother was the type of person who didn’t like to go to the doctor. By her trying to monitor the wound herself, she developed an infection and she got her foot amputated.”
JaMarcus Corlew went with his grandmother to the doctor, but she eventually passed away from complications of diabetes.
“I became a LPN (licensed practical nurse) first – I worked as LPN six or seven years,” said Corlew. Corlew began working at St. Thomas West in 2019.
“I work as trained educator and, in this role, I oversee a medical assistant program St Thomas Health Scholars program that is a medical assistant program.” The program is offered in seven schools in Nashville area.
“I offer hands-on training at the hospital, and in-person lectures to prepare students to become a clinical certified medical assistant. Students do clinical rotations, get hands on experience; at the end of year, in April, they take their exam to become a certified medical assistant.” Corlew does the training, teaching and leading as a mentor.
St. Thomas Ascension provides this training program for free to Maplewood, Cane Ridge and John Overton high schools in the metro Nashville area. The program also is offered in Smyrna high school and Stewarts Creek high schools in Rutherford County and East Hickman and Hickman County high schools.
Corlew sees his identity as a Black male nurse as a positive step in achieving diversity among health care providers.
“In the health care field, when patients see caregivers who look like them, from the same cultural background as themselves, they are able to really understand, and probably feel a sense of peace, when they get that care. As for men in nursing, when someone thinks of a nurse, they usually think of Florence Nightingale with the nurse’s cap and long dress. But time has evolved; we are now seeing more men.”
“When I was in nursing school there were only four men out of 40 students. A lot of people think being a male in the hospital …you don’t have the compassion as a female does. But, nursing is not a gendered role. Nursing is a great career choice, especially for males because of the shortage and high demand for nurses. You have great career stability and unique career growth opportunities.”
“When people see someone like me, or a Hispanic [provider] it’s good to see someone else in this role; it gives people hope, that they can do it. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say ‘Wow, how did you do it?’”
The awards from the Foundation can range from $600 to $3000 toward annual tuition costs for associates working at St. Thomas. Workers can apply each year.
“As long as they are in good academic standing, we are thrilled to renew those,” said Dan Thompson. “Gary was an educator himself and was a beloved member of his pod. He went back to school much like JaMarcus, became a nurse and came back to work for us. His story is remarkable. Now his scholarship is training a whole next generation of educators.”
“Our goals are to support those outstanding employees at Ascension Saint Thomas who really want to live the mission to care for patients and who are passionate about it. JaMarcus very much does that,” said Thompson.
“I’ve never got to meet Gary, just the fact that I was chosen for the scholarship is breathtaking to me, it’s an honor to do it and to carry on the legacy. I’m very appreciative of the scholarship, of Gary’s wife, family and children.”