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‘JSU is everything,’ alum and nurse practitioner is frontline for alma mater

Tiffany Smith is a nurse practitioner at the JSU Health Center on the University's main campus. (Photo by William Kelly/University Communications)

Tiffany Smith is a nurse practitioner at the JSU Health Center on the University’s main campus. (Photo by William Kelly/University Communications)

2019 RJT Byline

Tiffany Smith is one of many nurse practitioners standing on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. A self-proclaimed “die-hard JSU alum,” Smith was a member of the team who helped develop and implement Jackson State University’s COVID-19 response plan with the Department of Risk Management.

It is moments like this that remind Smith why she is proud to serve her alma mater as a nurse in the Student Health Center on campus.

“I remember sitting in my science class at JSU and being taught to think critically. You have to assess the whole situation and then act. That’s what we did when crafting our (COVID-19) response plan,” she said. “That’s what we have to do for our students.”

In 2012, Smith graduated from Jackson State with a Bachelor of Science in therapeutic recreation and a minor in biology. She also, simultaneously, completed a B.S. in nursing from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“We are a JSU family. My dad is an alum. I have three older siblings, and they are all alums. So, for me, JSU is everything,” said the married mother of a 12-year-old son.

Smith pours that same spirit into ensuring the university’s student body remains safe amid the coronavirus outbreak. “We assess our students for free, so all students have access. We look for common signs – shortness of breath, fever or a cough.”

However, Smith said they are aware that not everyone shares the same symptoms. “So, what we are doing is screening anyone for COVID-19 who appears to have a respiratory infection or cold because we know that sometimes people are not typical.”

Although the Woodville, Mississippi, native worked as a nurse at UMMC, the only Level 1 trauma center in the state, Smith said being on the frontline of a pandemic can be intimidating.

“I was around people with various diseases like tuberculosis, but this is different. It’s almost like having a constant fight or flight response. We’re trying to protect our staff, faculty and students. We have to make sure we eliminate any threat of exposure,” she said.

At home, Smith said she is equally protective of her family and they make sure to adhere to safety and health guidelines, which include a strict regime of handwashing. Her husband, Mickell Smith, Jr., is also an essential worker for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Tiffany Smith, a JSU alum, is one of many nurse practitioners who are still on the frontlines of the pandemic that began about a year ago. (Photo by William Kelly)

Tiffany Smith, a JSU alum, is one of many nurse practitioners who are still on the frontlines of the pandemic that began about a year ago. (Photo by William Kelly)

“We take all precautionary measures. We wash our hands constantly. We shower as soon as we come home. Even if we go to the grocery store, we’re washing our hands. It’s a totally different lifestyle,” she said.

Smith shared that good personal hygiene is critical in prevention. She recalled that during science class in college, students were given the task of washing their hands and then looking under a microscope to see how much bacteria remained.

“You will be surprised how many germs are left after basic handwashing,” said Smith, who advised that people sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice before rinsing off their hands.

She also suggested that everyone should have a good support system, stay in touch with loved ones via video calls and be a shoulder to lean on.

Smith then recalled the lifelong relationships she developed at Jackson State, with people she relies on still today.

“JSU is a home. I was in honor societies, recruiting organizations, but my favorite experience was pledging (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.). I gained 55 sisters from all walks of life, and they helped make me a better person,” she said. “We schedule a group video call to make sure we’re all doing okay during this process. We have to check on each other.”

Lastly, Smith has a final message for America: “We all have to keep pushing. Trouble will not last always.”