February 17, 2021
By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer
An Oak Ridge woman says Roane State is helping open new doors in her professional life as she seeks to become a registered nurse during the pandemic.
Krista Tillman, 46, is currently an emergency department technician at Tennova Healthcare’s North Knoxville Medical Center. She’s balancing online classes at the community college while tending to two step-daughters and her work, where she interacts daily with people infected with the deadly COVID-19 virus.
Her work attire includes N-95 masks, safety goggles, gloves, hair nets and booties. She sheds that personal protective equipment at the medical center after work. As an extra precaution, she takes off her shoes in her garage and disinfects them with Lysol.
Co-workers have contracted the disease but have only had mild symptoms, she said. While she could contract the virus, “I worry more about bringing it home to my family,” she said. “It scares me a lot, but I want to help people. It’s been really hard to watch people suffer.”
“I think I’m crazy switching careers in the middle of a pandemic,” she said, laughing. But she said she doesn’t regret her decision, and her Roane State experiences have reinforced her choice.
Tillman previously worked at Dollywood in Sevierville but decided last fall to go back to college after being furloughed and then landing the Tennova job.
She enrolled at Roane State last August through the Tennessee Reconnect program, which covers the cost of tuition. She’s aiming for an associate of applied science degree and then wants to get into the community college’s prestigious nursing program.
With fall semester and the accelerated winter term now under her belt, Tillman said she’s maintaining an all-A average, much to her surprise. “I never thought I could do that.”
Prof. Matt Waters, who was Tillman’s instructor in a winter term speech class, said Tillman is “a diligent, focused, excellent student.”
The online class format suits her lifestyle, she said, enabling her to study when she finds time while also working and doing household chores.
Since she’s taking all online studies, contact with college faculty and staff has been limited, but she praised her success coach, Kim Scarbrough, as well as Waters.
Scarbrough “has been absolutely wonderful walking me through everything,” Tillman said. “She’s been a godsend to me.”
Tillman also praised Prof. Waters. “He was a great professor and so helpful as well as very organized.”
Tillman said she intends to seek enrollment in Roane State’s RN program once she obtains her associate degree. She said she’d like to either be in psychiatric nursing or work in a hospital operating room.
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