TN Nurse receives scholarship named for healthcare worker who died from COVID

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — May is Nursing Month and the number of people entering the profession is not meeting demand. A grant named after a nurse who died from COVID-19 aims to help change that, and its first recipient wants to honor his legacy.

“Jamarcus was the first candidate we selected and awarded a grant from the Gary Woodward Fund,” said Dan Thompson, vice president of the Ascension Saint Thomas Foundation. “Actually, I just learned something today listening to Jim Marcus’ story. Ironically, and perhaps magically, Gary’s story is very similar to Jamarcus’.

Gary Woodward was a beloved nurse at Ascension Saint Thomas West who spent much of his life in another career.

“Gary was a senior professional who was not in the nursing field and he experienced St. Thomas as a family member to a patient and he was exposed to the nursing team and the processes surrounding the care of people in the hospital,” Thompson said. “And he was so moved that he went back to school and changed his career to be a nurse and work at St. Thomas.”

Woodward contracted COVID-19 and died as a result. His family wanted to honor him by supporting the education of nurses by promoting their degrees. JaMarcus Corlew was the first recipient of the Gary Woodward Nursing Scholarship.

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“I went to college and got my degree in graphic design with a minor in photography, which I did for a couple of years,” Corlew said. “My grandmother actually passed on my passion for nursing to me.”

Corlew’s grandmother was diabetic. He said she injured herself in the kitchen and went to the doctor with a small scab that soon turned into a larger wound that resulted in the amputation of her leg and another limb before she died. He started out as a CNA before becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse. He recently graduated as a registered nurse.

“When I started nursing school, and everywhere we went, if we went to the doctor’s office, (she says) that’s my grandson, he’s going to be a nurse and stuff like that. I think about that often and constantly. I think my grandmother would be very happy. I’m trying not to cry, I’m very happy just knowing that I am,” Corlew said. “She never saw my graduation. She never saw me finish, even when I became an LPN. And I think that was amazing. She has given me my passion, even encouragement over the years.”

Corlew is a licensed practical nurse and LPN-RN student at Western Kentucky University and plans to use the scholarship to complete his associate of science degree in nursing. Meanwhile, he also works to raise others.

“I now work as a registered educator and have a medical assistant program behind me,” he said. “Our program is active in seven schools in the Nashville area.”

The Gary Woodward Nursing Scholarship is part of the hospital’s effort to get more nurses to bedsides who need them.

“Nursing is particularly challenged right now,” Thompson said. “But I do believe that post-COVID there really is an opportunity to see a whole resurgence of people realizing the importance of this space and being drawn to challenging and meaningful things.”

The Tennessee Nurses Association said the pandemic has created a domino effect, with burnout rates among nurses at an all-time high while entry-level numbers have lagged to meet demand. They said healthcare systems need to incentivize nurses to enter and stay in the profession. TN Nurse receives scholarship named for healthcare worker who died from COVID

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