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category: Alumni

A healthy dose of ambition: one alum’s pursuit to help others

2020 alumna Kelsey Griffith

Kelsey Griffith developed clear career ambitions long before she could drive. The desire of helping others was a natural draw for the 2020 Carson-Newman University alumna.

It was her involvement with a local camp for children with disabilities that set the stage for what was to come. She was 13.

Griffith’s path crossed with a group that was also attending the camp: nursing students from Carson-Newman. The opportunity to observe the interaction between future nurses and the kids was all it took to spark the young teen’s interest in healthcare.

“I think for me, the biggest thing is I like helping people when they’re at their most vulnerable moments of life,” said the New Market native. “And I feel like nursing is the best way I can do that and try and meet their physical, spiritual and mental needs.”

Her first time in a Carson-Newman classroom took place as a dual enrollment student, picking up college courses while still in high school. She returned later to campus as a transfer college student and directly into the nursing program.

The experience was one that complemented Griffith’s drive of becoming a nurse.

“For me the most impactful was just the size of my classes. It was a smaller group, and I enjoyed that because I felt like I was not seen as just a number, but actually as a student and a person,” Griffith said. “Honestly, it was just the ability to be able to connect with my teachers in ways I would not have been able to if I was at a different school.”

With classes going well and the collegiate finish line within reach, all was falling into place.

Then COVID hit.

“There were a lot of second thoughts,” she admitted. “Yeah, COVID was a very difficult time.” Because of new restrictions, nursing students were not allowed to return to the hospitals.

“Carson-Newman did their best to adapt,” she said. “But there’s just only so much you can do if you can’t go into a hospital while you’re training to be a nurse.”

Despite the unforeseen challenges, Griffith credits the approach of C-N’s nursing program. “I think (its) nursing program brings intentionality behind not just treating things as a job, but treating things as a passion vocation.” Nurturing that passion saw Griffith through her senior year.

After graduating at the age of 19, she immediately began her nursing career on a COVID floor at University of Tennessee Medical Center. The 15-month stint proved intense as the healthcare industry battled the pandemic. “Yeah, it was a very challenging time. I was working night shift on top of it.”

Griffith eventually transitioned into UT’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. Despite its own demands within critical situations, the experience, she says, is rewarding. “I’ve enjoyed the process, learning about all the different major surgeries and being able to support patients after those surgeries.”

From helping train new nursing graduates to caring for open-heart surgery patients, Griffith’s stress-load is lessened by the support of her team and the reminder of why she pursued a career in nursing from the very start.

“For me, overall, it’s relying on my faith,” she said. “I think if it wasn’t that I felt called by the Lord to do this, then it would be very difficult to stick it out.”

Beyond the operating room, and hospital bedsides, Griffith’s heart for others in the area led her to pursue additional avenues of care. That opened the door to serving as vice president and director for the nonprofit Mossy Creek Health Initiative, a holistic approach to promoting good health for those in the Lakeway area.

Griffith said that it was after connecting with local gym, Mossy Creek Fitness, that she was inspired by what she saw. A model of promoting good health within a sense of community was just too good to ignore. Stepping into a leadership role, she started helping others at the gym.

“I kind of work on both aspects of health care,” she said. (I work) with very critically ill patients that have found themselves in the hospital. But then while I am coaching at the gym, I work with people to keep them out of the hospital.

“I wanted the people I was treating in the hospital to have the opportunity to experience what was happening at the gym,” Griffith explained. However, harsh realities presented a problem, in what Griffith describes as “socioeconomic health disparities.”

“Through several conversations with the team at the gym, we created a scholarship program,” she said. The move allowed those unable to afford a gym membership to have the opportunity. Discussions eventually led to the establishment of the Mossy Creek Health Initiative.

Along with scholarships, the organization recently launched a partnership with Phoenix, a program that provides a community and support system for those struggling with addiction.

With Griffith’s leadership, the group also established a local farmers’ market earlier this year. The gathering utilized Jefferson City’s Mossy Creek Station and proved popular drawing wide local support. The market not only encouraged the community to shop local, but provided fresh and healthy products.

The career course Griffith plotted as an early teen remains on target.  “I (wanted) to be a part of something bigger than just myself,” she reflected, “(that) what I did wasn’t just about me and how it affected where my future led. I wanted what I did in life to bring value and to impact the lives of others.”

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