Caring for a patient without nurses is like trying to run a race without legs, or like trying to fix a car without hands.
Of the 593 students seeking medical degrees here now, at least nine know that better than anyone. Here are the stories of three of them.
From a young age, Tara Lewis knew she wanted a career in health care - not surprising for anyone whose grandmother is a legend in the field.
The name of nursing icon Bebe Richardson, who retired from UMMC in 2002, is literally a part of the fabric of the Medical Center, where a conference room bears her name, and where her granddaughter trained before working six years helping deliver babies as an RN.
As a girl, Lewis was captivated by nursing as she and her sister, Kristen Ingram - now a nurse practitioner - watched their grandmother at work.
In this July 21, 2016, file photo UMMC nursing legend Bebe Richardson, left, congratulates her granddaughter Lewis, who was one of more than two dozen senior medical students inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society.
But, later, as a nurse herself, Lewis heard the stories of “these brilliant, older nurses who regretted not going to medical school.” That had been Lewis' own goal since high school, but once she married and started a family soon after graduating, a career in nursing offered a more practical choice.
Still, the other nurses' stories of what-might-have-been weighed on her mind. “I realized if I didn't go back to pursue medicine while I was still in my 20s, I never would,” she said, “and I would regret it, too.”
This was not a simple matter of applying to medical school, though. She had her RN, but she had earned an Associate Degree. Since a bachelor's is required for admission to the School of Medicine, Lewis enrolled in pre-med courses at Mississippi College, graduated and, more than three years ago, slipped into the first-year student's white coat.
“And then, for the first couple of years, I wondered what I had gotten myself into,” she said.
“When you're training as a nurse, there is the instant gratification of taking care of patients from the very beginning, and I missed that. For the first two years of medical school, it's mostly lectures; you are separated from patient care.
“Also, the knowledge gap is bigger in nursing school; you have to learn more in a shorter time, compared to medical school, which is more of a marathon, an endurance run. Nursing school was a sprint.”
In medical school, though, Lewis did not exactly dawdle. A fourth-year student, she completed the requirements for her M.D. in January. This month, she and her husband Christian Lewis of Madison will have their second child.
In May, exactly 10 years after she became a nurse, Lewis will graduate from medical school, and banish forever what-might-have-been.
During his internal medicine rotation, Omonuwa Adah, center, sounds out fellow medical students Eric Wilkerson and Adria Luk.
Esosa “Sosa” Adah and Osasu Adah - are in medical school here. They are two of Omonuwa Adah's three siblings. Their oldest, Dr. Ameze Adah, is a School of Medicine alumnus who did her pediatric fellowship at UMMC.
Their father is Dr. Felix Adah of Clinton, a UMMC professor of physical therapy. “He always told us, 'Whatever you do, use your talents to serve mankind,” Omonuwa said.
From an early age, Omonuwa's brother and two sisters knew they would be practicing medicine one day. Omonuwa knew he would be practicing soccer.
“Then I tore my ACL,” he said. This happened his senior year at Clinton High School, where his talents earned him Mississippi's 5A Player of the Year honors. He was also All-District, All-State, and, because of his knee injury, all out of prospects for a soccer scholarship, at least for a while.
Mississippi College's soccer coach invited him to play there for a year and re-hone his skills, then perhaps transfer to a school with a larger program. That's what he did.
“Then I tore my other ACL,” he said. “And that was the end of soccer.”
It was not the end of his education. He enjoyed the academic environment of the Clinton campus, where he decided to study for his nursing degree: While healing from his injuries, he was well taken care of by a male nurse; this impressed him. As did the skills of Dr. William Geissler, UMMC professor of orthopaedic surgery.
“I saw the impact doctors and nurses had in people's lives,” he said.
As a nursing student, he said, “I was testing the waters. I liked the instructors, but I always knew I would go back to school after that; I didn't know for sure what that would mean - nurse practitioner, medical school … “
By 2014 or so, some five years after working as an ICU nurse at UMMC, he knew. Continuing to work three days a week in the ICU, he went back to Mississippi College to take pre-med classes. There, he met Tara Lewis, Cody Robertson and other nurses/doctors-to-be.
Now in his third year in medical school, he is struck by how different nursing is, and how much it has helped him as a student, and how much it will help him as a physician.
“I already feel comfortable with patients,” he said. “I learned how to take care of different type of people; you don't talk to adolescents the same way you talk to older people.”
He is also struck by how much he respects nursing as a career. “When I put in patient orders, I know what nurses go through to fill them.
“I grew up a lot as a nurse. I know how smart nurses are in the ICU. Nurses love their patients. Sometimes it seems that people don't really appreciate what they do.
“As nurses, you work all night with each other, and then you go eat breakfast together. That's a different kind of bond.”
Cory Coleman has continued to work as a nurse in the Adult Hospital while completing his medical school education.
Growing up in Natchez, Cory Coleman learned about the thin line between life and death at an early age.
“I felt kind of helpless, watching people in my family getting sick; some died, and I couldn't do anything about it,” he said. “I thought if it were me controlling their medical care, I could fix it.”
He began his career as a fixer in nursing school; his enthusiasm for this career had been stirred by some Allied Health classes he took in high school.
“I saw how nurses got to spend a lot of time with patients,” he said. “So that's what I decided to do first.
“But I wanted to be a doctor since I was little. Then it dawned on me that I'm going to be in my 80s one day, sitting in a rocking chair on my porch, and I can either say I always wanted to be a doctor or, at the least, I can be able to tell my grandkids that I tried.”
He quit his job at Natchez Community Hospital after working there two years, took pre-med courses at Alcorn State University in Lorman; worked three years in Centreville as a PRN (pro re nata, or “as needed” nurse); then, in 2014, landed a job on the Medical Surgical Floor in UMMC's Adult Hospital, after entering the School of Medicine.
That's right: Coleman isn't a former nurse who's in medical school; he's a working nurse who's in medical school.
“For some reason, they took me,” he said. “The people in my classes are extremely intelligent; sometimes I feel like I'm here by accident.”
He's here because he drives one hour every day to UMMC from his home in Forest and either studies patient care as a future physician or cares for a patient as a current nurse.
In spite of a demanding medical school schedule, Coleman has stuck with his job as a nurse, he said, “mainly to pay off some bills.” And, he says, to erase the nagging feeling that he needs to be always working, especially at something he enjoys.
“Sometimes, though, I would be at work and all I could think about was, 'I need to be studying,'” he said. “I would wonder if maybe I had bitten off more than I can chew.”
Somehow, he managed to digest it all, he said. Now in his fourth and final year, Coleman will receive his M.D. in May, about nine years after earning his two-year RN degree at the Alcorn State branch in his hometown of Natchez.
On Match Day, March 17, he'll find out where he'll train for his residency. Whatever he does as a physician, he said, he knows it will be informed by his time as a nurse.
“The biggest help has been in communicating between nurse and physician. I can come at a problem from a different direction as a doctor. Knowing what nurses and nurses' aides do all day, I hope, will help me think more about what I'm doing as a physician.
“And, if I match here, the nurses I work with won't let me forget where I came from.”
His plan is to one day open a practice in Forest, where he and his wife Rebekah Coleman, a UMMC ophthalmic technologist, are “putting down roots.”
The Scott County town is also home to some of his relatives, who could also become his patients. As a boy, he longed to mend his family's health; as a man, he can.
Nurses In Medical School
J. Cory Coleman
Tara C. Lewis
Cody A. Robertson
Bradley A. Murray
Michael A. Sims
William H. Stewart
Nathaniel I. Hughes
John L. Waddell