Kent State Nursing Student Takes Graduation By Storm

Neither Hurricane Irma nor Hurricane Maria could stop a Kent State University nursing student from graduating, even though the Category 5 storms that hit the United States Virgin Islands last September forced Debra Thomas to make a difficult decision.

“The hurricanes put a serious financial burden on me and my significant other,” said Ms. Thomas. “I was faced with the choice of maintaining fuel levels for my generator and restocking our food supply or paying my tuition.” 

The fierce hurricanes left a path of utter destruction and upheaval in their wake. Without power and access to clean water and food, residents struggled to survive, including Ms. Thomas who lives on the island of St. Croix. She was pursuing her RN-to-BSN degree in Kent State’s College of Nursing while working as a registered nurse at Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center.

In the aftermath of the storms, Ms. Thomas explained that she and her colleagues focused their attention on stabilizing and transferring patients from the island to the U.S. mainland.

“Many nurses left the island after the storm. Others who were supposed to fill staff positions did not come in. My training with Kent State allowed me to execute my leadership skills during a time when they were greatly needed.”

While tending to her patients, Ms. Thomas was fearful the storms had washed away her ability to continue her education.  She had wanted to become a nurse to help people, but she was now the one needing help. Upon sharing her financial hardships with her academic advisor, Ms. Thomas was encouraged to apply for the Kent State College of Nursing Student Emergency Fund, which is used to assist nursing students during times of unexpected and dire financial need. 

“It was important for me to receive this scholarship to continue my education,” she said. “There was no way I was going to be able to pay my tuition and take care of my family after the storms hit.”

Ms. Thomas says the road to getting her degree has been a long one, but she has enjoyed the flexibility of taking classes at her own pace, especially while working as a full-time nurse and raising her almost two-year-old son, Izrael. 

“The support I’ve received from my advisors and professors is amazing. I feel more than prepared for the next part of my journey.”

Now that she has graduated, Ms. Thomas plans to apply to graduate school to specialize as a women’s health nurse practitioner, after she recognized the lack of healthcare services for women on the island outside of private practices that do not accept the Medical Assistance Program (MAP). 

“My hope is to one day work in a clinic and private practice setting to provide education on sexual health, teach women how to better take care of their bodies and serve as an advocate for women,” she said. “By continuing my training as an advanced practice nurse, I will be able to provide a great service to my home and community.”

Throughout her island’s recovery, Ms. Thomas says the Kent State College of Nursing has been a continuous source of support for her. She chose to attend Kent State not only because of its accreditation but also because of its reputation for being responsive to its students. Ms. Thomas is very appreciative of everyone’s concern. 

“Every so often, I will receive a call from my advisor just making sure I am okay. He always asks if there’s anything I need.”   

Thomas’ best advice for others who may be facing hardships -- speak up and seek help. 

“Without speaking up about my situation, I would not have received this scholarship,” she said. “It is easy to shut down and shut people out, but that does more harm than good. If you do not have the support of family and friends, look to the university and see what services they have to help ensure you succeed.”

Help other students like Debra Thomas by giving to the Student Emergency Fund.