Nontraditional student returns to Georgia Southern University to chart new career path
For years, Khristine Clark Hammond believed she had a solid professional career. She was an exercise physiologist, a health coach and a manager of wellness and fitness programs. But she found herself at a crossroads during the COVID-19 pandemic. After working in Savannah hospitals for more than two decades, she lost her job. The hospital fitness facility she managed closed during the pandemic.
“I’d been there 18 years,” Clark Hammond said, “and that was all I really knew.”
Now at a critical turning point, Clark Hammond decided to pursue the career she had always wondered about.
“I’d always thought about going back to school for nursing, but because I was making good money and I was comfortable in my position, I didn’t have a huge drive to do it,” she admitted. “I was also balancing going into debt for more school, and really feeling like I should do it. So, when the pandemic hit and my facility closed, life circumstances helped me make the decision. It was like divine intervention. God pushed me to go ahead and make the decision.”
During Georgia Southern University’s Dec. 10 commencement ceremony at the Enmarket Arena in Savannah, Clark Hammond could not have been more excited. In the month after she turned 50, she walked across the stage for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. However, this was not the first time she was a student on the Armstrong Campus. She earned her bachelor’s in biology from Armstrong State College in 1995 and a master’s in kinesiology from Georgia Southern in 1998. Clark Hammond was admitted into the Waters College of Health Professions in the spring of 2021.
“It was a little bit of a culture shock,” said the nontraditional student. “It was much more challenging than I thought it would be. But everybody was in the same situation, so we all bonded over having this stressful program to get through, and you really do have a great sense of accomplishment at the end.”
The Class of 2022 graduate also noticed significant classroom changes since she received her first degree.
“Back when I was in school, we didn’t have the internet,” Clark Hammond recalled. “I remember one time I procrastinated on a paper, and I had to drive to the Medical College of Georgia to get the resources I needed. Now you can just hop online and find resources and videos to reinforce what is taught in the classroom. As a multimodal learner, this was a significant contributor to my success as a student.”
Despite the age gap between her and most other students, the newly graduated nurse said she always felt like she fit in.
“My first semester, we had someone as young as 19 in the class,” Clark Hammond said. “While there was a wide range of ages in our cohort, we all shared the same experiences of this challenging program, which made it easy to relate to one another and ultimately bridge the age gap.”
The nurse also credited the work of the nursing school’s dedicated faculty and staff for the graduates’ success.
“Having been through the program, I would say they definitely prepare you,” she said. “You’re going to be given the resources you need to prepare, the support that you need, and the opportunities to explore the field and get a good taste of the various areas and specialties within the nursing field. The program really gives you the groundwork to be a successful nurse.”
The groundwork included opportunities for real-world experiences during two nursing externships. During clinical training last spring at Memorial Health in Savannah, Clark Hammond was introduced to the hospital’s labor and delivery program. She completed an externship over the summer and her practicum there this fall, which led to a job offer. She plans to begin working there in February.
“I had never thought about labor and delivery before I was in this program,” she said. “But this past spring, we had our maternal/infant clinical and I just fell in love with labor and delivery on the first day. The unit really allows the nurse to experience diversity within one unit. There is the post-anesthesia care unit or triage for emergency patients and delivery rooms. Labor and delivery is a fast-paced unit and that’s something that really appealed to me.”
Clark Hammond is thrilled about what lies ahead now that she has completed her studies. She was among the nursing graduates who gathered for the pinning ceremony held two days before commencement. This traditional rite of passage recognizes students’ hard work and welcomes them into the nursing profession. The ceremony had one more surprise for Clark Hammond when the Outstanding BSN Clinician Award winner was announced.
“They called my name and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s your name,’” said Clark Hammond, “and I couldn’t believe it. As I walked up to the stage, I felt myself getting all welled up and I had to fight back the tears. I was just so shocked and felt extremely honored.”
Clark Hammond describes herself as a lifelong learner and said graduating is bittersweet.
“It’s bittersweet because you have built relationships with these students and the faculty,” she said. “I am excited for the new beginning, but I am going to miss everyone a lot. But I know that I will be back for more. I am going to take some time to get started in my new career, but I see myself back in school working on a Master of Science in Nursing degree in the not-so-distant future.”