I Just Wanted to Be A Nurse

By Tiffany King

Long before Angela Ammons, RN, BSN, became the CEO of Clinch Memorial Hospital in Homerville, Georgia, she was a non-traditional student pursuing an Associate of Science in Nursing degree at the College of Coastal Georgia. She graduated with her associate’s in 2007, and 10 years later, in 2017, she was named CEO at Clinch Memorial and led a successful turnaround effort at the hospital, which was on the verge of closing. Ammons has a long history of overcoming the odds. From a tumultuous childhood, dropping out of high school at age 15, earning her GED, having two children, getting divorced, and enrolling in college with a full-time job, she understands the value of hard work and perseverance.

After earning her associate’s degree from Coastal, Ammons obtained both her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master in Nursing Leadership degrees from Western Governors University.

Ammons always knew that nursing was the career for her.

“I’ve always been geared to serving other people and have had an emphatic spirit of nature, and I know that patients are often at their most vulnerable point,” she said. “I was drawn to nursing because I couldn’t think of any better way that I could serve.”

When Ammons came to the College she was a mother of two, recently divorced, and working at Summit Sports Medicine. She thought it was a good time to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. Balancing college and a full-time job can be difficult for any student. She’s grateful to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Melvin Deese of Summit Sports Medicine and manager Gloria Wood for allowing her to work around her class schedule.

“They had to have someone cover the front desk until I got there,” she said. “They are a pivotal part in me getting a degree at the College.”

She then worked for plastic surgeon Dr. Bill Mitchell at Renue Plastic Surgery. Although she worked less than 40 hours a week because of school, Mitchell made sure that Ammons and her children were able to stay insured. She was allowed to work after hours and on the weekends so she could support her family.

Being a full-time student wasn’t always easy, but she remembers moments of kindness and support that encouraged her to keep moving forward. Ammons shared that during her first semester in college, she couldn’t afford all of her textbooks for the first few weeks. In her algebra class, one of her classmates, Rhonda Diggs, noticed that she didn’t have her textbook. She slid her desk next to Ammons’ in order to share her book and made copies of the book pages for Ammons until she could buy her own.

“If she didn’t do that, I would have fallen so far behind—those little acts of kindness matter. There were adults in that class that made jokes about it, but she stepped in to help me. She’s part of building who I am today,” Ammons said.

Some of her favorite nursing instructors who impacted her life included, Scott Wenzka, who was the psych nursing instructor; Kathy Upham, whom Ammons describes as being very direct; and Desi Carter. Ammons called Carter after taking the test for her nursing license and thought that she failed. Carter took the time to calm her down and reassure her that everything was fine.

“We still message every now and then, and I will always appreciate her kindness,” Ammons said.

Her favorite memory from nursing school was seeing the camaraderie among students in the program. Three months into the program, her cohort shrunk by 50 percent, Ammons said, and she remembers seeing one student passed out asleep and being awakened by friends in between lectures. Ammons and her classmates would gather at a local bookstore and be there all day on Saturdays and Sundays, drinking coffee, studying, and sharing lecture notes.

“I loved graduation night and looking around at all the people who made it, because it’s hard work. Once you obtain that, no one can take it away from you. It was such a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “There were a couple of times where I didn’t know if I was going to make it because of work and personal issues. When I found out that I had passed it was absolutely amazing.”

College taught Ammons the importance of consistency and that waiting until the last minute won’t cut it.

“People expect for you to give 110 percent, and you’re not doing that when you do it last minute,” she said. “College taught me how to prepare, prepare, prepare.”

Always Be Willing to Learn

Ammons’ advice to her younger self is not to put off getting an education. She remembers being fascinated with the curriculum in her college history classes and learning things she never heard before because she dropped out of high school. As a child, she was a voracious reader and would escape to her local library in Macon and leave with a stack of books. She enjoyed being the heroine of the stories she read and absorbing new information—which she still does. Ammons just completed a certificate program at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

“They offered a health care executive program, and I was just so proud to be there with this elite group of people who were finishing up their MBA. I’m considering applying for the MBA program at Emory. The network connections that I’ve made from being in that program are amazing—scientists, physicians, and other business owners. Always continue to learn,” she said.

When Ammons meets current nursing students, she encourages them to stay the course and trust what their nursing instructors are teaching. She’s transparent in letting them know that nurses will never be paid enough or thanked enough for all their hard work, but it’s worth it. Nursing is continually listed as one of the most respected jobs in the world, Ammons said, therefore it’s important to work hard and remain steady. Earning her associate’s degree prepared her to be task oriented, and earning her bachelor’s helped answer the questions of why things are done a certain way. Ammons foresees that hospitals will one day require nurses to have their bachelor’s.

Still Passionate About Nursing

Prior to joining Clinch Memorial, Ammons served as nurse director of the Behavioral Health Unit and nurse manager for the Medical Surgical Unit at Memorial Satilla in Waycross, Georgia. She was also a critical care nurse at Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick. Ammons still gets an adrenaline rush when she hears a code blue.

“I can’t imagine taking any other career path than I did and being passionate about the work that I was doing. Showing up first, making sure your work is done at the very end—these are things that nursing schools really teach you,” Ammons said. “To all my nursing students, work like you’re on a job interview every day. You may think an associate’s degree is the last stop, but you don’t know when you’re going to be the next CEO of a hospital. You’ll never get that opportunity if you don’t give it 100 percent every single day.”

Every now and then Ammons will arrive at Clinch in her scrubs to help out or because she’ll have a busy day around the hospital. Her background in nursing gives her a great advantage in understanding the different functions of a hospital, what the terms “busy” and “understaffed” mean for nurses, and how to interact with physicians.

“I never knew getting an associate’s degree was going to help me build the foundation to become a CEO,” Ammons said. “Back then, when I graduated, I just wanted to be a nurse.”

Ammons will always be an advocate for nurses because of the huge impact they have in people’s lives, despite their own personal struggles.

Ammons is married and is the proud mother of five children. Her eldest son has a career in IT; her second son is in pharmacy school at the University of Georgia and is considering pursuing a medical degree to become a pediatrician; one son serves in the U.S. Air Force; another is set to join the Air Force as well; and her daughter is considering becoming a teacher.

In addition to her being a wife, mother, and CEO, Ammons is the founder of a nonprofit organization that will build and sustain a free medical clinic in San Antonio, Intibucá located in Honduras. She is passionate about mission work and finding missions in everyday life.