It’s not every day you find yourself on the cover of a national magazine. Northwest Mississippi Community College alumna Shala Horton of Nashville may have been surprised by the honor, but for her it was just another day on the job. Horton, a flight nurse and paramedic at Vanderbilt Lifeflight appeared on the cover of the June 2014 edition of “EMS World.” The magazine featured an article on the 30th anniversary of Vanderbilt Lifeflight’s service.
Horton began her journey at Northwest in 1998, earning a career certificate in EMT-Basic in 2000. She came back to Northwest and earned an Associate of Applied Science in EMT- Paramedic in 2004. She went on to earn an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing from Tennessee State University in 2010, graduating with highest honors and serving as president of her class. She is a Registered Nurse and a Nationally Registered Paramedic.
When she graduated from Richland High School, she began attending Hinds Community College. Her mother was a nurse, and she decided that is what she wanted to do. Before coming to Northwest, Horton served in the United States Navy from 1994-1997. While in school at Northwest, she worked for Tate County Emergency Management Services.
Horton came to Northwest when she got out of the Navy. She had always planned on being a nurse and got accepted into a program in Jackson. She decided that it wasn’t what she wanted at the time, and came to Senatobia to live with a friend she knew from the Navy and started the EMT-Basic program at Northwest.
“I can’t speak enough about either program at Northwest. The work the instructors put into the EMT program was unbelievable. One of the things I have always enjoyed was learning. My Northwest instructors had the same standards. They had great expectations for their students,” Horton said. She praised Brenda Hood, the retired director of the Northwest Paramedic Program. “This program would not be what it is today without her. Every instructor in the program had been her student. She knew them, she trained them and she built this program from the ground up,” Horton said. She said that Hood asked her to become an instructor to teach certification classes that were needed in the field. “If she thought you were good enough, she would give you an instructor’s test. Her reputation was on the line every time you went out to teach a class. It was a huge responsibility,” Horton said.
Horton has come back to Northwest over the years numerous times to help with check- offs and testing for students. “I would go to the National Registry and check off Northwest’s and other colleges’ students for their licensure. Hands down, those students could not compete with Northwest’s students. The knowledge level was just not there,” Horton said. In addition to being taught by and working with Hood, Horton has also worked closely with Lisa Briscoe, who has taught in the EMT program at Northwest for several years.
“I am so proud of Shala and her accomplishments. She excelled in her studies as a student at Northwest, always striving to be the best. On the first day of class I would always tell the new students ‘when you finish our program that means I trust my life and the lives of my family, friends and neighbors to you.’ That was never more true when Shala responded to a 911 call for my daughter. As an EMS professional you cannot ask for a better paramedic to arrive on the scene to provide care for the patient and compassion for the family. I have no doubt her professionalism has carried over to her nursing career as well. It does not surprise me that she continues to represent Northwest and the EMS profession in the best possible way,” Hood said.
Horton worked as an emergency department technician at Methodist LeBonheur South from 2004-2007 before going to Vanderbilt. She has been at Vanderbilt since March 2007, providing care as a flight nurse and paramedic on both fixed wing aircraft and helicopter. She cares for patients with acute illnesses and life threatening illnesses, supporting patients and families in coping with these illnesses and emergencies.
One of the highlights of the June 2014 EMS World article was about Horton’s transition to flight nurse. Horton was flying as a paramedic while she was in nursing school. Tennessee state regulations then required individuals to be a nurse for three years before they could be eligible to become a flight nurse. Vanderbilt’s Lifeflight staff worked with the state to change that requirement to one year for people who have been a flight paramedic for a number of years. Horton became the first person to transition to flight nurse after only one year of being a nurse. “It has been a pleasure to watch Shala progress through our system as a flight paramedic and then transition to a role as a flight nurse,” said Lis Henley, RN, AEMT, director of Vanderbilt LifeFlight. “Shala blazed new ground within the institution and continues to be a shining example of an engaged and committed employee. We are very proud of her and the hard work she did and continues to do.”
Horton counts her experience at Northwest as the groundwork for what she has accomplished since. “I had a great experience there and not just in my program. The people in the offices, and especially Financial Aid and Admissions helped me a lot. Everybody who works there is proud of what they do,” Horton said.
To learn more about Northwest’s EMT- Basic, EMT- Paramedic and Nursing programs, visit the college’s website at www.northwestms.edu.