Determination & Dreams

Determination & Dreams

Polk State Respiratory Care Student Works Hard to Reach Her Goals

by PAUL CATALA

Shaledra Turner says it was her “best friend” who motivated her to work hard, focus, study and strive for success in life.

That “best friend” was Turner’s grandmother Doris Wade. And even though she died in December 2014, her words of wisdom and support inspired Turner to further her education, scholarships, training and a career in the medical field.

“She (Wade) was a strong force in my life, and me and my mom stayed with her most of my life. Between her and my mom, they are the reason I am what I am today,” she says. 

Turner, 26, is currently enrolled in Polk State College Lakeland’s Respiratory Care program. She started the program in August 2020 and hopes to complete her courses and graduate by spring 2022. 

The Lakeland native has a lifelong history of asthma, so as a child she would often end up in the hospital emergency room. Those experiences allowed her to see and experience firsthand what respiratory therapists do to help those who are struggling.

“As a kid, you know someone is there to help you, and you learn the difference between the different medical fields. That made me want to help kids the way the therapists helped me when I was younger,” says Turner.

“When my grandmom died, I hit rock-bottom. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I was always angry and upset,” says Turner. 

Turner channeled those emotions into her education. With the help of a continuing education scholarship, she’s been able to climb back onto the ladder of success. 

Through the Philanthropic Educational Organization based in Iowa, Turner received a $2,000 scholarship, offered to women who began college but left after a minimum of two years and decided to return. 

Lynn Sward, president of the Winter Haven PEO, says Turner was selected for the scholarship based on what she overcame to get into and finish college. 

“We were impressed with what she overcame in her life. Once she realized her goals, she’s been very dedicated in pursuing them and succeeded, she has good grades and a good work ethic. We were impressed with her drive to succeed,” says Sward. 

That financial aid helped Turner advance her RT studies, which at one time, seemed unattainable.

Since enrolling in PSC’s RT program, Turner also had to deal with helping her paternal grandmother, Prudence Everett, with dementia. Over the past six years, until Everett’s death in February, Turner had been involved with her grandmother’s care and helping her cope with dementia. Turner says the care was a full-time job.

“There was a lot of emotional and mental stress with that; there was a lot on my mind but when she died, it offered me a bit more flexibility with my schedule. It made my clinical rotations easier since I had been dealing with my grandmother’s issues,” says Turner.

Outside of school, Turner works as a first-responder Emergency Medical Technician for a private ambulance company in Lakeland. She became certified as an EMT through PSC’s Emergency Medical Services Program in December 2019 and hopes to transfer those skills into her future work as a full-time RT.

Turner says her RT program is challenging and her first two semesters were rough, with in-depth training. She adds that she forces herself to focus.

“I’m a role model for my sisters,” she says. “I want them to see me and see that they can do anything if they apply themselves.” 

Shana Kent-Smith, Turner’s RT program director, says with Turner’s current grades, learned skill sets and graduation goals, there’s nothing standing in the way of Turner’s ability to succeed in the field. Turner is one of 12 students currently enrolled in the RT program.

Kent-Smith, who is in her third year at Polk State College, says Turner is “a phenomenal student” who has already completed her clinical rotations. She says the clinical instructors also say Turner is a proficient team player who works to help her colleagues achieve success. 

Turner credits Kent-Smith with motivation throughout various crises in her personal life and helping her become a strong leader as the RT class president. 

Even when the coronavirus pandemic began and the college library shut down, Kent-Smith says Turner made an effort to still come to the RT laboratory to study, spending three hours after work to further her skills.

“She’s very organized and determined to be successful,” says Kent-Smith. “She has overcome a lot to do what it takes to achieve the grades to be successful in our program.”

As for her future, Turner, who says she enjoys working out and traveling with her sisters, would like to become a children’s flight therapist on a medical helicopter, helping children in respiratory crisis. 

“I’m not a behind-the-desk type of person,” she says. “I went into the medical field because I’m meant to help people, not be on a headset or behind a desk all day.”

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