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Front-line hero, full-time student

  • August 12, 2021
Ramona Bonner is earning her fifth degree 35 years after receiving her first one, all while fighting COVID-19 in rural Alabama.

Ramona Bonner coordinated COVID-19 testing sites in Sumter County throughout the pandemic.  (Photography: Jackueline Stephens)Ramona Bonner coordinated COVID-19 testing sites in Sumter County throughout the pandemic.
(Photography: Jackueline Stephens)
Ramona Bonner spent 2020 fighting COVID-19 on the front lines. As the Quality Improvement and Infection Control coordinator at Hill Hospital of Sumter County, Alabama, she worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic organizing testing and vaccination sites throughout the rural county. 

Between long days fighting the pandemic and caring for patients, Bonner spent her little free time in virtual classrooms and studying. She was a full-time, front-line hero as well as a full-time nursing student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing

A South Carolina native, Bonner grew up surrounded by nurses, including her mother and three aunts. Her passion for nursing stems from being influenced by these incredible women. Her mother’s motto remains in her heart: If you can help someone along the way, your living will not be in vain. When it was time to choose a career path, she decided to test out the family business. What she found was a profession that would become her lifelong passion.  

“I discovered I had a passion for serving others,” Bonner said. “It is rewarding to promote good health practices as well as being an advocate for the unique individuals I care for.”

Bonner graduated with her associate degree in nursing from the University of South Carolina in 1984 and worked alongside her mother at the Medical University of South Carolina. After relocating to Alabama with her husband in 1986, she began a 20-year career at a local nursing home. 

She enjoyed caring for her patients and her two children but had an internal drive that pushed her to continue her education. Bonner started taking classes toward earning her bachelor’s degree when her life took an unexpected turn.  

In 2005, Bonner lost her father to diabetes and lost her husband a year later to complications from heart disease. She suddenly found herself a single mom of two children. Instead of allowing grief to overcome her, she turned it into motivation.  

Exterior shot of UAB's School of NursingUAB School of Nursing
(Photography: Steve Wood)
“When you lose someone close, it will consume your whole life,” Bonner said. “You have to find something to do, and for me, my outlet became school. I needed to find a way to continue my purpose to promote health and wellness in honor of my late husband and father.”

Bonner began working multiple jobs in addition to nursing to provide for her family and put herself through school. She graduated with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health studies from the University of Alabama in 2013 and graduated magna cum laude with her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Jacksonville State University.

Still unsatisfied, Bonner set her eyes on a new goal. She wanted to become a nurse practitioner — to promote the health and wellness of others — before she turned 60. 

In 2019, Bonner enrolled in the Master of Science nursing program at UAB’s School of Nursing and began her journey to earn her fifth degree, 35 years after receiving her first one.

From the start, Bonner says, she was met with open arms from everyone, whether it was faculty, staff or other students. She was amazed by the overwhelming support and quickly realized her success was her instructors’ top priority.

“My instructors were willing to do whatever it took to assist me with reaching my goals and fullest potential,” Bonner said. “I am a little older compared to the other students in the program, but it has been a rewarding experience with great opportunities.”

Her instructors admired her dedicated work ethic. Alice Bristow, DNP, CRNP, was one of Bonner’s instructors. Bristow acknowledged the strength and vulnerability it took for Bonner to return to a role as a “beginner” after multiple degrees and 32 years of nursing experience.

Ramona Bonner in her cap and gown. Bonner will graduate from the UAB School of Nursing on Aug. 14, 2021 – two months before her 60th birthday.
(Photography: Ramona Bonner)
“Only someone with a keen focus on ‘what can be’ could step backward in order to move forward,” Bristow said. “As a student, Ramona was driven and undeterred by setbacks. If a clinical site fell through, she adapted. If an exam score was not to her liking, she accepted responsibility and worked harder. No excuses.”

Bonner says she has grown exponentially during her time in the program. She looks forward to using her skills as a nurse practitioner in the rural community at the local hospital, her current place of employment. She has also become an outspoken advocate for her local nursing colleagues to advance through education, often saying, “If I can do it, anybody can!” 

Her children, Isaac Jr. and Brittney Bonner, are excited to support their mother as she achieves another goal. After watching their mom work multiple jobs, earn numerous degrees and be a single mom of two, they consider their mother the ultimate role model. 

“She is superwoman,” Brittney Bonner said. “She always worked hard to elevate her career. She loves medicine. She has a passion for people. We are all proud of her for fighting for her goals.”

Bonner will complete her goal Aug. 14 when she graduates from UAB as a family nurse practitioner — two months before her 60th birthday.