Woman's life spent nursing makes a mark

Kathleen May of Williamsburg is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in community health and environmental health, with an emphasis in occupational health and safety/industrial hygiene.

She is also a Virginia licensed teacher of health and medical science. After a 23-year-long career in nursing, she switched to teaching and, in 2002, received the New Teacher of the Year Award in the field of health and medical science education.

Although May has dedicated her life to providing health care to people, in one form or another, she doesn’t claim to have been inspired by the example of Florence Nightingale, the British nurse who in 1850s volunteered to serve on the frontlines of the Crimean War.

“To be honest, after I graduated from high school, I was on my own and I needed a well-paying profession where I could start work pretty quickly. And I wanted a profession where I could work anywhere in the world,” May said in a recent interview with the Gazette.

She enrolled first in a practical nursing school at Riverside to gain entry into the nursing profession. She worked for a year as an LPN, then went back to school. In 1994, she obtained her degree as a registered nurse, worked for a few years, and then again, she went back to school. This time she earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing, and later a master of science in health science.

Now, as a lead-teacher at the Health and Medical Sciences Academy at the Bethel High School in Hampton, she is using her own experience of entering the nursing profession, as a teaching tool.

“I am trying to convey to my students that the learning process is life-long,” she said. “You do not just study and learn a concept for today. You need to remember them for life. People need to build their knowledge base in all life’s subject areas.”

Talking about the benefits derived by students who enroll in the program at Bethel, she said: “The benefit of being given the opportunity to take a health and medical science class in high school is that the students can learn what’s available out in the industry to them. The question, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ can be answered, or at least researched. Students gain a wealth of knowledge that can be used in their lives to help themselves.”

May said students in the academy learn first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, community emergency response skills, how to take vital signs and how to screen patients’ vision, hearing, BMI, motor skills and depth perception . Students learn how to perform basic suturing skills, venipuncture, basic nursing aid, physical therapy, medical assisting and nursing skills as an introduction to health and medical sciences.

She also puts emphasis on another aspect of the learning process at Bethel. “Students learn how to communicate with their patients. And through our Career and Technical Education Student Organization, they can focus their research on particular area of health and medical science.”

Students then work on this area of study during the school year to prepare for competition in March at the Virginia HOSA State Leadership Conference, which will be held in Williamsburg.

As far as a career in nursing and teaching is concerned, May could serve as a role model. “It seems I have always had a nursing position. If I am teaching full time, I am nursing part time. If I am nursing full time, I am teaching part time.”

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.

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