Two nursing alumni represent the Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions in the Georgia State University Alumni 40 Under 40 Class of 2019. Ashley Blackmon and Dustin Hillis, nominees to the second annual 40 Under 40 class, share a background in critical care nursing and civic advocacy.
Ashley Blackmon, APRN, CCRN, FNP-C, is an advanced heart failure nurse practitioner at Piedmont Heart Institute. She is also vice president of the United Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (UAPRN), a professional organization which supports nurse practitioners by providing education, networking and political advocacy.
Blackmon’s day job as an advanced heart failure nurse practitioner takes an emotional toll as her patients are all pre- and post- heart transplant candidates and patients who are entering hospice.
“Some people ask me how I can handle the emotions behind this,” she said. “But I get tremendous satisfaction in providing my patients with the best possible quality of life. I give them options they otherwise would not have.”
Growing up in a conservative family of five children, Blackmon was homeschooled throughout much of her childhood. Even so, she experienced some traditional teen school activities by joining a hybrid high school program. Blackmon took classes twice a week with others, led her high school basketball team as captain and even played in an all-girl garage band.
Following high school, Blackmon turned to a healthcare career, earning an associate of science degree at Gordon College and working as an emergency room technician.
“It was there that I realized I would rather pursue nursing as my career,” she said.
Blackmon earned both an undergraduate and a master’s degree in nursing at Georgia State, sometimes working twelve hour overnight weekend shifts to attend classes Monday through Friday. Now a successful nurse practitioner, she returns to Georgia State to share her knowledge.
“[My] favorite way to give back is to return, at Dr. Cranwell-Bruce’s kind request of the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions, every semester to guest lecture for the graduate nurse practitioners class. My lecture focuses on EKG interpretation in the primary care setting.”
Blackmon also contributes to the careers of current and future nurses as a vice president of UAPRN, which is proactive in nurses’ and patients’ rights and lobbies for nursing-focused bills. She says UAPRN also partners with the Georgia Nurses Association for educational efforts benefitting more than 170,000 nurses throughout the state.
Like Blackmon, Dustin Hillis focuses on critical care but civic leadership is his passion. Hillis is a critical care nurse employed by Emory University Hospital in the neuroscience ICU. He was chosen to be part of the team of nurses who cared for the first four patients treated for Ebola in the United States during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak.
“It was scary, but once I had my wife’s support I went through intensive training for the isolation unit, the gear we had to wear and the processes,” said Hillis.
Raised the oldest son of a young, single mother, Hillis learned perseverance in childhood.
“Thanks to all her dedication and pushing me to be my best, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college,” he said.
As a child, Hillis was a weather geek and thought he wanted to be a meteorologist when he grew up.
“When other kids were watching MTV and sitcoms, I was glued to The Weather Channel,” he said referring to the days when the channel featured 100 percent weather and no reality shows. “I actually taught the 5th-grade science class about meteorology when I was in 6th grade.”
Hillis became involved in civic life when he and his high-school sweetheart wife moved to the Riverside community in the City of Atlanta. He began attending neighborhood association meetings, serving in a variety of leadership positions including president. Hillis’ passion for improving the quality of life in Atlanta led him to first work on the city’s code enforcement committee and later run for city council.
“I was upset with the lack of code enforcement in our area, and the lack of action by the city to deal with blighted homes,” said Hillis.
His work in code enforcement ultimately led to more than 800 complaint resolutions and 100 demolitions of blighted property. Working with the Atlanta Police Department and other entities, Hillis has also successfully lobbied for the installation of 24 security cameras and license plate readers in high crime areas of his home district. Hillis, now Councilman Hillis, is in his second year representing District 9 on the Atlanta City Council.
Started in 2018, the 40 Under 40 program recognizes and honors the most influential and innovative graduates who embody the values of Georgia State.