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UWA's Hill: 'I've never wanted to be anything but a nurse'

Dr. Chineda Hill

Dr. Chineda Hill teaches in the Ira D. Pruitt Division of Nursing.

Nursing professor brings practical experience to her role as an educator

Story: Phillip Tutor | Photo: Betsy Compton 

Polite as possible, Dr. Chineda Hill, an associate professor of nursing at the University of West Alabama, is nonetheless adamant. She permits no hesitation. She harbors no doubt. A smile shades her spunk. “I’m a nurse,” she said. 

The rub is that she said that not from a hospital floor but instead from her Spieth Hall office, where she’s taught for a decade in UWA’s Ira D. Pruitt Division of Nursing. Which is why her response to a simple question -- “What are you, an educator or a nurse?” -- is so delicious. 

“Even when you say you're in education, I'm still a nurse. I cannot be in this role without being a nurse,” she said. “Hands down, I'm going to say I'm a nurse.” 

Ask again and she remains unbent. 

“I'm going to say I'm a nurse,” she said. 

And why? 

“I've never wanted to be anything but a nurse,” she said. 

With its well publicized 100-percent pass rate in the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam and the popularity of its Project EARN scholarship program, UWA’s nursing school has become an Alabama Black Belt success story at a time when pandemic-related nursing shortages have been felt nationwide. The timing couldn’t be more prescient. 

Being a nurse, as well as an educator, matters, Hill believes. 

“I can say it's the buy-in from our administrator, from Dr. Mary Hanks, that buy-in that we're small, but we can do it,” she said. “We try to provide them the best. I think we are trying to better ourselves, to better our students and give our students the best that they can have.” 

Hill’s path to nursing school didn’t start in high school or as a college student, but instead when she was 5 or 6 years old in Lanett, a Chambers County, Alabama, town hard on the Georgia state line. Her grandmother, Minnie Jackson, worked as a surgical technician at a nearby community hospital and often took her granddaughter to work. Though kept from operating rooms, Hill absorbed the human essence of hospital work -- the compassion, the assistance, the skill, the commitment. 

The die was set. 

“I wanted to help,” Hill said. “I saw that she was helping people and coming in that hospital and people needing the help, and I wanted to do the same thing --  not so much as a surgical technician, but a nurse. I wanted to go into helping people.” 

Jackson, part mentor, part doting grandmother, empowered Hill’s burgeoning passion, buying her a set of lilac-colored nursing scrubs and a lavender-tinted stethoscope the future UWA professor rarely let out of her sight. “I used to walk around and dance with that scrub set on,” Hill said. “She said I wore it all the time.” 

“We have to mentor throughout our program. We see that our mentoring program has really developed our students, and they've bought into it, and we've bought into it as well.”

-- Dr. Chineda Hill

Degrees from Southern Union State Community College, Auburn University and the University of Alabama and a broad range of experience led to Hill’s role in orthopedics, neurology and urology at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa. The little girl in the lilac-shaded scrubs from Lanett had finally arrived, becoming a dedicated professional who likes to read romance novels and take boisterous girl trips to warm-weather sites like Jamaica, Cancun and the Dominican Republic. 

Her desire to keep following her grandmother’s motivation never waned, though. When she earned her master’s degree from the University of Alabama, she discovered that her main role -- bedside nursing -- was preventing her from using portions of her advanced training. When an opportunity arose as an education coordinator at DCH, she embraced teaching the hospital’s inexperienced patient-care assistants (PCAs), wholly unaware that her career move would eventually lead to UWA’s campus in Livingston. 

“A lot of the PCA students would say, ‘You would make a good nurse educator.’ And I'm like, really? Because I have a sister who's a special-needs educator, and I never thought of myself as an educator, especially not in nursing, because I wanted to take care of patients,” she said. 

“I was enjoying it. I love teaching them and showing them. It was still nursing for me. It still was my passion. I was still doing my passion.” 

In 2012, UWA’s nursing school had a faculty opening for an assistant professor. An hour up the road, Hill mulled the opportunity and thought about her PCA students’ comments. She applied, UWA hired her, and she immediately began teaching in Livingston.  

“It was different. I tell everybody, you just don't segue into it just because you’ve got the training for it,” Hill said. “You have to learn how to teach. It's a process for me.” She tackled that process as she had previous ones. The nurse-turned-educator returned to school, earning her doctorate of education in 2019 from the University of Alabama. 

“I had the master's degree (in nursing), but I felt like to really hone in and to perfect what I needed to do to get these students to understand and be able to go and take a standardized test, I needed to get some more special education to do it,” Hill said. It was paramount, she believed, to be as adept at teaching as she was nursing. “Getting that doctoral degree helped me tremendously.” 

Sentimentality aside, Hill’s recollections from the early hospital days with her grandmother seem to resonate when she discusses the mentorship component of UWA’s nursing school. Hill never appears far removed from the grass roots of the profession and the bonds that form between professors and students.  

“We have to mentor throughout our program,” she said. “We see that our mentoring program has really developed our students, and they've bought into it, and we've bought into it as well.” Teaching nursing fundamentals and foundational courses to “the babies,” as she describes new enrollees, is more joy than chore, she says.  

She wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“I would not change my career path. I'm serious,” she said. “I've only wanted to be a nurse, and being an educator, that's a bonus. But the nurse is what I've always aspired to be.”