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Grant clears path for nursing student to pursue her dream of helping others

Mary Boulton, a junior at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., was inspired to be a nurse so she could guide patients through difficult times. “Playing such an important role in their journey back to health and overall growth as an individual brings me joy,” she said.

But the Pascagoula, Miss. native’s road to nursing has been paved with difficulties of her own.   

“We lost my step-father in 2009 and my father in 2012, leaving my mother as the sole provider,” Boulton said. Her mother has consistently worked two jobs and Boulton worked 20-30 hours a week when she started college.

“With both of us working and taking out loans, we made sure my school was paid for, but this left us barely scraping by and drained at the end of every week,” Boulton said.

Fortunately for Boulton, financial help arrived, thanks to a grant the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration awarded Spring Hill College. The $3.2 million grant will support up to 45 Spring Hill nursing majors per year for five years.

“I wish so desperately that I could better explain the way it feels to have one less burden to carry on your shoulders,” Boulton said. “When I tell you there are no words to describe the immense amount of gratitude I feel today, I mean it.”

Designed to build a diverse workforce and provide healthcare in underserved areas, Spring Hill College joined 85 other nursing programs across the country receiving funding.

“This grant will open doors that might be financially closed for some students,” said Kathy Sheppard, Ph.D., RN and Professor and Chair of the Division of Nursing.

“The day it [the grant] was distributed into my account, I cried happy tears,” Boulton said. “I got to call the financial aid office and cancel my loans, I got to cancel the payment plan we’d set up to pay the balance that loans wouldn’t cover, and most importantly, I got to call my mother and tell her that someone had heard our prayers.”

In addition to providing financial support, Spring Hill has made Boulton a better person, she said.

“I have become more aware of worldly injustices and inequalities, and this awareness further ignited my desire to help others,” she said. “Spring Hill College instilled in me a passion for service and granted me opportunities to impact the lives of those in my community.”

Spring Hill’s nursing program has been recognized as the top four-year program in Alabama.

The best part of the nursing program on The Hill, Boulton said, is the close bond formed by students and teachers.

“You share every high and low together, and you form real friendships,” she said. “The teachers at Spring Hill College know your capabilities and truly want you to succeed. They are always there with open arms when you need them to be, and having a support system like that is just amazing.”

Boulton has not yet selected a nursing specialty, but enjoyed doing clinical rotations at USA Health University Hospital where she worked with trauma patients.  “It is a constant learning environment, which is something I really enjoy,” she said.

For now, Boulton’s short-term goals are simple: Graduate, pass the national licensure exam and work in one of Mobile’s hospitals. Longer-term goals include working a few years, then exploring nurse practitioner programs.

Because of the close-knit Spring Hill nursing program, the rewarding clinical experience and now the grant making it affordable, Boulton is confident in her career choice.  

“Good nurses are the backbone of good care,” she said. “A nurse works with patients every single day and serves as their teacher, advocator, communicator, counselor and so much more. Nurses don't just improve patient outcomes; they change the life of every single individual they interact with.” 

This article is part of the “Real World Ready” series about outstanding Spring Hill College students, alumni, faculty and administrators.

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