SON alums shine as change leaders, health care innovators
Published on Monday, May 16, 2022
By: Ruth Cummins, firstname.lastname@example.org
When Dr. Jonathan Wilson was a student in the University of Mississippi School of Nursing, his required uniform included white shoes, white shirt and white slacks.
When Dr. Alaina Herrington was a student there, simulation learning was just emerging. Students practiced routine procedures on each other.
Fast forward to 2022, and Wilson and Herrington not only have distinguished themselves in the nursing profession, they’ve become leaders who usher nursing students into the future. For their service, they’ve been honored by the Alumni Board of the School of Nursing on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus.
Herington, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing and director of the Judith Gore Gearhart Clinical Skills Center, is the 2022 Alumna of the Year. Wilson, the Medical Center’s chief administrative officer, is the 2022 Alumnus of the Year.
It’s the first time two alums have shared the honor, said Dr. Michelle Goreth, associate professor of nursing and Alumni Board president-elect. “They’re very unique leaders in what they do, and their reach was difficult to compare. We felt their impacts to the nursing community, to the School of Nursing and to health care overall make them both deserving of this honor,” Goreth said.
Goreth was joined by School of Nursing Dean Dr. Julie Sanford for the awards presentation May 11 at the Fairview Inn in Jackson.
The honor, voted on by all SON alumni, is the Alumni Board’s top accolade, said board president Dr. Michael Parnell, chief executive officer of the United Healthcare Community Plan of Mississippi. “Both are known nationally for their contribution to health care and are leading experts in their fields,” he said.
The event also included honors for five women who graduated from the SON 50 or more years ago. Those “Golden Graduates” are Sylvia Abney of Laurel, Class of 1966; Sandra West of Jackson, Class of 1968; Carol Ann McGehee of Jackson, Class of 1970; and Priscilla Berry of Eads, Tenn., and Kay Jones of Hernando, Class of 1971.
Wilson, appointed chief administrative officer in 2014, is a nationally recognized leader in nursing and health care leadership. The Brandon resident received his bachelor of science from the School of Nursing in 1999 and his master of science in nursing in 2011. He received his doctor of philosophy in nursing in 2017 from the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences.
The associate professor of nursing and assistant professor of emergency medicine coordinates administrative services including the Mississippi Center for Emergency Services and Campus Police. Wilson also serves as UMMC’s COVID-19 Incident manager to coordinate internal emergency management services and support the Mississippi State Department of Health for statewide public health and emergency services.
“I am deeply humbled by this recognition,” Wilson said. “The School of Nursing has such a long history, and has generated really great leaders within the nursing profession.”
His nursing roots at UMMC run deep. Wilson was a student nurse assistant in the Adult Emergency Department from 1997-99, serving as an ED staff nurse from 1999-2001, a senior ED staff nurse, from 2001-2005 and ED nursing shift supervisor from 2005-2007. He was named clinical director of emergency services in 2007, then director of emergency services in 2011, serving there until his appointment as chief administrative officer in 2014.
Wilson was part of the a small UMMC team that was one of the first “boots on the ground” responders to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Over the last decade, he has distinguished himself through his leadership and development of UMMC’s emergency response capabilities. He serves on several local, state and national work groups associated with the planning and implementation of emergency and disaster health care services.
Wilson’s quiet leadership as COVID-19 incident manager emanated throughout the community and state during the pandemic. Goreth said. “Even those who don’t work at UMMC were seeing him on the news, interacting with state leaders and with the team that works with him. There were things that had to be designed and implemented and operationalized and adjusted at a moment’s notice. That is the strength of Dr. Wilson.”
Wilson enjoys travel with his wife, Cristy, and their daughter, Ella Grace, spending quality time with family and friends, and supporting Ole Miss athletics.
The SON faculty members who especially guided Wilson and Herrington are almost too numerous to list. Wilson especially cites Dr. Kim Hoover. Dr. Janet Harris. Dr. Mary Stewart. Dr. Ladonna Northington. Dr. Gaye Ragland. Dr. Jean Walker. Dr. Audwin Fletcher. Dr. Susan Lofton. Add to that, from Herrington, Dr. Rebecca Askew Rives.
“The big thing in nursing school is that they really teach you how to think, and to problem-solve and give holistic care to your patients,” Wilson said. “It’s not remembering the normal range of potassium. It’s how you treat the patient as a whole.”
Herrington is a 2014 graduate of the School of Nursing’s master of health care administration program. She received her bachelor of nursing at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2004 and her doctor of nursing practice, health systems and administration, with a concentration in education, in 2020 from Samford University.
Through the nursing education community, she’s known for her passion for, and leadership in, simulation education. Herrington has spearheaded state, national and international projects that expand student and clinical learning through simulation, and she has cultivated simulation educators in achieving simulation certifications and accreditation.
Herrington’s impact to simulation health education is so great that it really can’t be quantified, Goreth said. “She’s training people all over the world. She’s helping develop ways to train health care providers in ways we’ve never done before,” Goreth said. “What she’s developing is so far-reaching, and it’s not just simple tasks. It’s communication. It’s interprofessional education.”
Life was topsy-turvy for Herrington when she was pursuing her master’s. “I had a child. I was pregnant. My husband was going back to get his degree at the same time,” she said.
But the Brandon resident persevered and excelled. “I realized I wanted to go further, and I did, and then I came back to UMMC to teach,” Herrington remembered. “It’s been a full circle.”
She’s proud of the work she’s accomplished in simulation education to give students the most innovative tools to treat patients. “That’s the future of where nurse education is going,” she said. “It’s exciting that I’ve been allowed to mold and integrate that piece into our program. (SON leaders) are out-of-the-box thinkers, and they really keep up with the needs of the population. We’re the only school in the state that has simulation integrated into the master of science in nursing educator’s program.”
In 2021, Herrington was recognized for her work as an Academy in Nursing Education Fellow. She is a Fellow of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSH) Academy, a simulation nurse educator consultant for the National League for Nursing (NLN), and has served in multiple professional roles with the NLN, SSH and the International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning. She is past president of the Mississippi Healthcare Simulation Alliance.
Herrington especially remembers Rives as a mentor who “identified me as someone who could take on a special project. I learned how to redesign a department.”
When she presented her work to Harris, now professor emeritus of nursing, “it was a pivotal moment,” Herrington said. “I was told my work is valuable, and that I could have an impact in this organization and in future organizations.”
Herrington and her husband Brian are parents of Adalyn and Fisher and enjoy traveling, boating and playing with their dogs.