BREVARD COUNTY, Fla – Karen Thomas was among the first female Clinical Education Specialists at Health First.
Thomas has been with Health First for 33 years and holds three degrees in the medical field. Throughout the years, she has helped hundreds of associates, ranging from recent graduates to seasoned professionals, in getting the best clinical education to help patients.
Thomas — who’s originally from Charleston, South Carolina — took after her father and joined the military as a formal signal officer in the Army. Thomas said the military gave her the tools to be the successful nurse that she is today.
“The military is very structured; I use a lot of my leadership that I developed in the military,” she said.
Thomas said nursing wasn’t her first choice, after graduating from Tuskegee University with a degree in animal science; she ended up getting her Bachelor’s in nursing at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and has never looked back since.
Thomas then went on to get her master’s degree in nursing education from the University of Phoenix. Thomas comes from a long line of educators.
“I never thought I would do anything in education because all of my aunts and my mother were educators and I thought ‘I don’t want to be an educator or a teacher but surprisingly it’s almost my forte,” she said. “I don’t think I want to do anything else right now.”
Thomas was in the very first group of Clinical Education Specialists at Health First. The hospital now has a team of nine education nurses and said she is very thankful to have this team. Thomas said her fellow coworkers look up to her and call her the ‘mom and historian’ of Health First.
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“Since I’ve been at Health First for so long, they call me the historian; so, any projects we have they ask me first, " she said.
She also teaches students at Eastern Florida College every Sunday. Thomas said she takes pride in teaching others and enjoys helping students achieve their dreams. Many of her students still reach out to thank her to this day.
“It makes me feel great, because not only do I keep up with them, but I can go through all my groups that I’ve had since 2008 or 2009 and actually pick a few of them out and know exactly what they’re doing and exactly where they are,” Thomas said. “My biggest thing, once they graduate from Eastern is to push them to get their BSN. It’s nice to see them progressing and they still call no matter where they are.”
Thomas also worked for Healthy Start, a local organization that helps take care of pregnant women with food, clothing and housing. In addition, she is also the chair of the Integrated Delivery Network Education Committee.
She’s been with Health First for more than three decades and said she’s enjoyed seeing the hospital grow.
“I’ve enjoyed my stay at Health First, I’ve seen it grow in different areas and just to see how that growth has helped the community,” Thomas said. “I never thought I was going to stay in Florida this long, but it’s been the best thing—like I didn’t get to choose, it’s chosen for me sometimes.”
Free time is a bit scarce for her, since she’s the caretaker of her parents, but when she’s not helping them you can find her doing yard work, spending time with her grandson or cross-stitching.
“My free time right now is taking care of my parents because they’re both 88.”
And when she thinks of Women’s History Month, she said it’s important to highlight because women have come a long way.
“I think when women’s month started, it was something that really that was important to bring forward because women are doing so many things that people don’t even realize in the U.S., across the world. I think it’s a good thing that women are now being highlighted about the things that they’re doing and the important things that they’re doing throughout the world,” Thomas said.
Her advice to students, or women looking to get into the industry, she said getting your education should be the top priority.
“It’s most important for them to get their education and know that you can do almost anything and everything that you want to do, but get your education first,” Thomas said. “And make sure that you’re doing what you love and that you’re enjoying it.