College of Nursing Extends Aid to Student Following Hurricanes

Debra Thomas holding her hospital name tag
When Category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the United States Virgin Islands in September 2017, they left a path of utter destruction and upheaval in their wake. Without power and access to clean water and food, residents struggled to survive. Kent State University College of Nursing RN-to-BSN student, Debra Thomas, was among those affected. She lives on the island of St. Croix and has worked as a registered nurse at Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center for five years.

In the aftermath of the storms, 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, Thomas was fearful the storms had washed away her ability to continue her education. “The hurricanes put a serious financial burden on me and my significant other,” said Thomas. “I was faced with the choice of maintaining fuel levels for my generator and restocking our food supply or paying my tuition.” 

Thomas, who wanted to become a nurse to help people, found herself in a position where she was the one needing help. Upon sharing her financial hardships with her academic advisor, Andrew Snyder, she was encouraged to apply for the College of Nursing Student Emergency Fund. The fund exists to assist Kent State nursing students during times of unexpected and dire financial need. “It was important for me to receive this scholarship to continue my education. There was no way I was going to be able to pay my tuition and take care of my family after the storms hit.”

As a recipient of a one-time scholarship from the Emergency Fund, Thomas is back on track to graduate from the RN-to-BSN program in May 2018. She said her time getting her degree from Kent State has been a long road, but she has enjoyed the flexibility to take 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.”

Following graduation, 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, how women can better take care of their bodies, and serve as an advocate for women. By continuing my training as an advanced practice nurse, I will to be able to provide a great service to my home and community.”

Throughout her island’s recovery, Thomas says the College of Nursing has been a continuous source of support for her. She chose to attend Kent State University not only because of its accreditation, but also because of its reputation of being responsive to its students. 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. It is easy to shut down and shut people out, but that does more harm than good. If you do not have support of family and friends, look to the university and see what services they have to help ensure you succeed.”

POSTED: Tuesday, February 6, 2018 - 5:43pm
UPDATED: Thursday, March 26, 2020 - 11:51am
Mariah Gibbons