First-generation college student Shameka Rodgers has wanted to be a nurse her entire life. The daughter of a certified nursing assistant from the small Black Belt town of Georgiana, Alabama, she spent time at the nursing home where her mom worked and developed a passion for helping others.
“I have known since I watched a health video in eighth grade that I eventually want to be a nurse practitioner,” she said. “And I knew UAB was the only place that could give me the experience I need to be a great nurse practitioner one day.”
Rodgers is on the precipice of that dream. She graduated from UAB in spring 2014 with her bachelor’s of science in nursing. She is now enrolled in the school’s master of science in nursing program in the family nurse practitioner specialty track, and is a Graduate Nursing Education Primary Care Scholar (GNEPCS), which are current nurse practitioner students who are planning to provide primary care in one of Alabama’s rural-designated counties upon graduation. Primary Care Scholars enroll in the same courses as their classmates but receive mentoring, individualized content relative to rural health issues, preceptorships with rural health providers and other opportunities for professional and leadership development.
Seeing rural health issues first hand
Growing up in Georgiana, Rodgers saw the effects of a lack of access to health care and health education on her community.
“I have had experiences with my grandmother where she was noncompliant with essential medications or not following health promotion suggestions because of a lack of education,” she said “It was within those city limits that I knew I wanted to change the way health care was provided for rural communities, especially in Alabama, one of the places that has the highest need in that population.”
Rodgers said she is working to become a family nurse practitioner and is in the GNEPCS program “to become better prepared to take care of those in rural Alabama and anyone who is medically underserved. This population… [has] different cultural, economic, and educational backgrounds, therefore requiring more specific plans of care. From this program, I have hopes that I will learn knowledge and gain experiences that will allow me to better serve this population. I also anticipate gaining knowledge of resources that can be integrated in the health care of this population.”
Her passion to serve rural communities has grown over the years through community service projects, one in particular at M-Power Ministries in Birmingham, Alabama.
“MPower Ministries is a free health clinic that serves people who do not have insurance or they do not have the financial stability to afford medications. Through my time as a triage nurse, I had an opportunity to see a lot of patients with preventable illness that often plague those who are uninsured,” she said. “A city like Birmingham has enough resources and people willing to help those in need, but this is often not the same for surrounding rural areas. Rural areas usually lack transportation and resources needed to make it to a clinic like M-Power, so this further inspired me to empower rural communities through being a nurse practitioner to areas that lack a primary care provider.”
Journey to success
Rodgers will tell you getting to this point in her career has not been easy – there have been bumps along the way. From a single-income household, she knew scholarships were the only way her family could afford for her to earn her undergraduate degree at UAB – her first and only choice.
“I came here on and FBLA trip in 9th grade and I knew this was where I wanted to be as soon as I got off the bus,” she said.
Rodgers recalls that she was immediately impressed by the campus diversity, exponential leadership opportunities and the nationally ranked nursing program.
“I rely strongly on my gut instincts. I remember that day in ninth grade like it was yesterday. UAB felt like home,” said Rodgers.
With a focus on achieving her goals, Rodgers worked diligently through high school to achieve good grades, excellent test scores, and most importantly, applied for scholarships when the time came. And since arriving at UAB for her first undergraduate semester, Rodgers has not only been a, exceptional student and leader in the School of Nursing, she has been a leader across campus.
As an undergraduate she was a member of the Experiential Learning Scholars Program and the School of Nursing Honors Program. Her numerous scholarship awards included the Brock Family Endowed Nursing, Lettie P. Whitehead Nursing, Mary J. Harwell Nursing, UAB Equity and Diversity, and UAB Collegiate scholarships. An orientation leader coordinator and a resident assistant, she held membership in the Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society, Student Nurses Association, Golden Key International Honor Society, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., National Panhellenic Council, Gamma Sigma Alpha Greek Honors Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Freshman Honor Society and the Multicultural Scholars Program.
But, there have been challenges at UAB too; the most significant came in her second semester in the nursing program.
“My house in Georgiana caught fire,” she said. “And I didn’t tell anyone. I just kept going.”
A bright future
Rodgers currently works at UAB Hospital in the Women and Infants Center on the Gynecology/Oncology Nursing Unit and is utilizing the university’s tuition-assistance program for employees. After completing her master’s degree, Rodgers plans to work in a rural health department because “citizens who do not have insurance or lack quality insurance usually seek the health department for health care. This initial contact can foster a relationship…and also, give me an opportunity to educate them on the importance of their health.”
First-generation student finds home, focus on rural health at UAB
Growing up in rural Alabama Shameka Rodgers saw the effect a lack of health care access, education had on her community and made UAB her first and only choice for a nursing education she will take back home to help others