ATLANTA—The World Health Organization declared 2020 the “Year of the Nurse,” celebrating the nursing profession’s dedication to caring for the world, a theme selected before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
One Georgia State University alumna and nursing student especially personifies this dedication and focus.
Ebonee Gresham, a doctor of nursing practice (D.N.P.) student, juggles two jobs as incident commander for COVID-19 testing and her regular position as a Health Department clinical nurse coordinator. On days assigned to work as an incident commander, she sets up in a public parking lot to test patients for the coronavirus and oversee other nurses doing the same. At her regular job at a local health department, she manages operations of the clinic, supervises nurses at the site and manages the clinic’s budget.
“Public health is my passion,” she said.
Gresham manages more than two jobs at multiple locations. Enrolled in the intense D.N.P. degree program in the Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions, she is also a working mother of 10 children, ranging from preschoolers to young adults.
Inspired by her military-veteran mother, Gresham found her calling to nursing after studying pre-medicine at Howard University. When her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Gresham, an only child, gave up her dreams to become a doctor and care for her mother in hospice. It was then she discovered caregiving and decided to switch careers.
Gresham tried to enroll in a licensed practice nurse program at Georgia Piedmont Technical College, but the program was overcrowded, so her admissions chances were doubtful. Gresham decided to try the institution next door.
“I literally walked across the grass to Georgia Perimeter College [crossing the lawn between the schools] and spoke to an adviser who helped me enroll in the R.N. program,” she said.
Once in nursing school, things did not get easier for the single mother of young children. Gresham had to balance working part-time, raising children, studying and completing clinical rotations for her nursing program. She and her young family were even homeless for a bit, living in her old SUV. When another close family member became seriously ill, Gresham went into caregiver mode at the expense of her grades. She eventually had to repeat part of the nursing program.
But her mother’s words and influence kept Gresham focused on her goal.
“She always told me to be at the top because the bottom is crowded,” said Gresham.
A self-described professional student, Gresham wasn’t satisfied completing an associate degree to be a registered nurse. After graduating from Perimeter College in 2014, she went to work at Grady Hospital. Gresham earned a bachelor’s degree knowing the degree would improve her value. Many hospitals often hire bachelor’s degree-prepared nurses to help them maintain prestigious Magnet Award status. She earned a master’s degree to become a nurse manager and a post-master’s certificate in education so she could teach nurses.
Gresham says she is pursuing the D.N.P. degree for herself.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t finish at Howard University, so I always wanted more. I didn’t want to be only a floor nurse. I wanted to be a nurse manager,” she said.
The doctorate represented an education peak, and Gresham wanted to reach that peak while young.
So how does she do it all? Gresham says she learned to run a strict, structured household and schedule from her veteran mother. The flexible, online degree program with asynchronous course work allows Gresham to do much of her studies late at night while her husband and children sleep.
“I don’t sleep much,” she admitted.
But Gresham does believe in self-care. She works out, having learned to run to relieve stress and now runs three miles a day. She loves a challenge and is goal-driven, so the doctorate program keeps her moving.
Gresham is grateful to those who have helped her in the journey.
“I’ve had the most awesome faculty,” she said. “Now they are colleagues. Two are on my D.N.P. project team.”