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Nursing Professor Receives C-N’s Community Service Award

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B.J. Ellington got her childhood wish to be a doctor, albeit in a circumvented way. As a little girl, she dreamed of being a physician, but instead became a forensic nurse practitioner who earned a doctorate. Along the way, she has served many people who she would probably have never encountered as an medical doctor.

A member of Carson-Newman’s faculty, Dr. Ellington teaches a full load in the institution’s graduate nursing program, but, according to a recent award nomination letter, “is one of those Energizer Bunny people who do so much that it creates the illusion of having more hours on the human clock than do the rest of us.”

“Volunteering at 14 to work with people with handicapping conditions made a big impression on me, especially working with Down’s (Syndrome) populations. That helped me discover a kind of unconditional love you just don’t often find in most people,” said Ellington. She followed that service with candy-striping at a local hospital and church-related activities. She continues her lifelong interest is helping others with three service outlets.

Beyond the classroom, Ellington regularly gives her time to Jefferson Rural Clinic, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and to Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center. The breadth and depth of her volunteerism led to her receipt of Carson-Newman’s Community Service Award near the end of the academic year.

Jefferson Rural Clinic has generated some 9000 patient appointments since it opened to serve indigent patients in 2005. Ellington, who joined C-N’s faculty in 2004, was on board from the beginning. Having begun as a volunteer nurse practitioner, she went on to allow RN students the opportunity to develop patient skills while she served as the healthcare provider of record. Each spring semester she supervises family nurse practitioner students who pursue the MSN (Master of Science in Nursing).

The class size is limited to 20 students, which ensures that each student gets two days at the clinic as part of 240 total hours they must work during the term. Between her individual work and student supervisory efforts over the last seven years, Ellington has been involved in approximately 11 percent of the clinic’s patient appointments, a number that includes more than 600 unique individuals unable to afford health insurance.

“MSN students need to be involved in providing patient care to the disadvantaged and uninsured population so they understand that not everyone has the resources to obtain medical care when it is needed,” she said.

Jefferson County Sherriff’s Department Auxiliary Deputy Program is part of the national Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) Program. Using specialized professionals who are willing to undergo training and serve at least 10 hours a month, VIPS provides a level of expertise that stretched budgets could not otherwise afford. One of several such JCSD VIPS, Ellington is on duty with local officers, consults on cases particularly those involving health care and medical forensics, and provides education to public safety officers in the region.

While her JCSD duties include work at the detention center, where she helps process inmates, the professor said riding with deputies is particularly enjoyable. “That’s what I like the most – being out on patrol. Sometimes, if we have to arrest someone, I stay with them and occupy them while the deputies complete their investigation.” She said the opportunity gives her a chance to let people know someone cares, even in “some pretty difficult circumstances.”

Serving the Fourth Judicial District, which is made up of Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson and Sevier Counties, Safe Harbor seeks to foster and coordinate a child-centric setting for children who have suffered abuse, often at the hands of a family member. While Ellington has worked as a volunteer, she has also served on the organization’s board. Her efforts have included helping train police officers and investigators in the particulars of investigating infant death and how to recognize signs of child abuse.

Ellington said she was surprised by the Community Service Award because she sees the outreach as part of what she “is supposed to do.”

“I guess I do each thing for a different reason,” smiled Ellington. “The clinic offers a chance to help and the need is so tremendous, plus there are so many really great people in some really difficult situations. Safe Harbor gives me a chance to help children at a time when they desperately need someone to care about them and tell them they did not do anything, but rather than someone did something to them. And, then, working with the sheriff’s department is a chance to treat people kindly while seeking justice for those who need it. I think it’s also a chance to maybe intervene and try to help people make good choices, better choices.”

At the core of each service, each activity, Ellington says, is gratitude to God. “I guess it’s my way of thanking Him for making me a new creation. He really did that for me.”

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