By Ida Brown / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
After more than three decades educating and training many of the area's aspiring nurses, Debroah Stokes is now retired.
Stokes, who is Meridian's first African-American nursing instructor, began her teaching career at the now defunct Matty Hersee School of Nursing before joining the Associate Degree/RN Program at Meridian Community College, where she taught for 32 years.
"I have had the honor of educating and training thousands of students who are now very successful registered nurses employed in all areas of nursing," said Stokes, who retired this summer.
A Bailey native, Stokes attended Middleton Attendance Center, a predominately black school in Lauderdale. When the local school system integrated her senior year, Stokes transferred to Northeast High School, where she graduated in 1970.
She was inspired her mother, the late Mattie Bourrage, to pursue a career in nursing.
"My mother was a nurse at Matty Hersee, actually a nurse's aide. But that was before integration and during that time the nurse's aides did a lot of what nurses actually do," she said.
Stokes' nursing career has included a number of milestones. She attended Matty Hersee School of Nursing and took support classes (such as anatomy, physiology and microbiology) at the then Meridian Junior College. When she began nursing school in 1970, Matty Hersee had not been integrated very long.
"There had been only one other African-American student there, Mary Hubbard, and she was in her last year when I started there," Stokes said.
She received her registered nurse diploma in 1974.
"At that time, you could be a registered nurse by going to a diploma school, like Matty Hersee," Stokes explained.
She later received her bachelor of science and master of science degrees in nursing from the University of Southern Mississippi, and was in USM's first graduating class of the RN to BSN Program in Meridian.
"There were four of us, and our portrait still hangs at University of Southern Mississippi," she said.
Stokes eventually merged her passion for nursing with another enthusiasm: teaching.
"I've been blessed in that I've been able to do of my loves," she said. "It's just a wonderful combination to blend nursing, which I love so much, with education."
During her 30-plus years as a nurse educator, Stokes has witnessed numerous advances. But one of her most cherished is the increased number of minorities to enter the field.
"When I started teaching at MJC, we had very few African-American students. So I'm especially proud that we have now have more enrolled," she said.
Stokes is also enthused that more males are entering the nursing field.
"I've always been an advocate, of course, for African-American students but also for males. I felt that if we had more males in the nursing area, salaries would be affected, and of course it did," she said.
"Salary is not one of the biggest draws to nursing, but it has an impact. I always tell my students when you go to the grocery store, as compassionate and loving and trusted as you are by the public – nursing is still one of those real trusted professions, and we work hard to keep it that way – that loaf of bread is still going to cost you the same. Nursing has grown and is a profession that people not only can love, but also earn a good living from."
But Stokes said her greatest joy as a nursing educator comes from her students.
"You learn so much from them if you are open to learning," she said. "And I always enjoyed watching them grow – seeing them come in, some completely green, and watching them blossom into effective registered nurses. Nurses who are critical thinkers, patient advocates and who use sound clinical reasoning."
Stokes received numerous honors and recognitions during her years in education, including: MCC Teacher of the Year; Lamplighters, a statewide recognition of teaching excellence in community college teachers; induction into MCC’s prestigious Talon Club; NAACP Mother of the Year Award; member of the Sigma Theta Tau international honor society of Phi Delta Kappa. She has also served as coordinator of the First-Year Associate Degree Nursing Program, president of the MCC Faculty Association and a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Evaluator.
Now that she is retired, Stokes is devoting more time to her family. She and her husband, Charles Larry Stokes, have two children: Carlo (Kenya) Stokes and Stephanie (Shawn) Eley and two grandchildren Kyla and Ethan.
She and her husband are members of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, where Stokes is a Sunday School teacher, program coordinator, president of the junior and senior usher boards and participates in other areas of the church.
Her advice to other aspiring nurses:
"Maintain that love of nursing as well as the dignity and respect of the patient. And, always do your best; give your patient 100 percent. Because when they are sick, that's when they need you the most."