All posts by Donna Smith

SPC Nursing Professor Leads by Example

nurse volunteers

As the COVID-19 numbers spiked in Pinellas County, testing centers were in need of nurse volunteers to swab the long lines of people seeking tests. So when the Pinellas County Urban League reached out to St. Petersburg College’s Nursing program, Gina McCabe, a Level IV Clinical SPC Nursing Adjunct at, jumped on the chance to be a helper.

“The sweet lady at the Urban League was so excited, because they really needed someone,” McCabe said.

McCabe was swiftly trained, outfitted in protective gear and positioned in the drive-through testing site at the Ridgecrest YMCA in Largo. She swabbed 63 people that day.

“I just greeted people with a smile and tried to calm them,” she said.

The volunteer work was in addition to teaching her two senior-level classes at St. Petersburg College and her full-time position as a nursing supervisor at Mease-Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor. McCabe believes the desire to help people just comes with the profession.

“It sounds mundane, but it’s true,” she said. “There’s something about nursing – you just always want to help people and give back to your community.”

McCabe often volunteers locally, and sometimes even internationally, on mission trips to Haiti. As a clinical instructor, McCabe said she feels it is important to try to instill in her students the desire to give back to the community through volunteer work.

“Once they get their feet wet and figure out their jobs, I think it’s vital for them to volunteer in their own communities and abroad,” McCabe said. “It’s truly fulfilling personally, and it helps the community, as well.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the Pinellas County Urban League at 727-327-2081. Would you like to pursue a nursing career or take your current certification to a higher level? Check out SPC’s flexible and affordable programs.

SPC Nursing Class of 2020 Celebrated

It’s not often that pets are invited to graduation celebrations, but St. Petersburg College School of Nursing’s Class of 2020 made history on May 6. Due to social gathering restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, they became the first class in the 64 years of the program to graduate via Zoom conference. College administration, instructors, graduates, their families and even some cats and dogs all logged on to celebrate 153 Nursing graduates. 

The unusual circumstances didn’t dampen the celebratory mood, but tears of gratitude, relief and pride certainly flowed. The Zoom graduation celebration began at 9:30 a.m. After the final strains of Pomp and Circumstance played, SPC College of Nursing Dean Louisana Louis welcomed everyone and introduced SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams, who was calling in from home, all decked out in her full graduation regalia.

“I think you can tell that I’m so excited, proud and happy for you,” Williams said. “I know you’ve done the hard work and the long hours, and you are more than prepared for this profession. It is my honor and pleasure to say congratulations.”

Williams also noted her pride in the group’s perseverance through the past few months.

“You hear people say, ‘the tassel is worth the hassle,’ but you guys got a double dose at the end of your experience. I know sometimes you felt like quitting, but your family, spouses, and children became the passion behind your purpose.”

An emotional Louis told the grads that she was proud of the group for standing outside their comfort zones and meeting the challenge to finish their degrees.

“This was not just a regular semester,” Louis said. “It challenged each of you. Today we celebrate you, because you refused to give up. We know it was not easy transitioning online, and now you are all Titan nurses.”

Louis invited everyone to turn their mics off and give a cheer, which lasted well over a minute. Once everyone was muted again, Acting Vice President of Academic Affairs Susan Demers addressed the group. She noted that whenever she is being seen at a medical office, she always makes sure they know she’s from SPC.

“I always make sure my badge is displayed prominently, and it never fails, even when a nurse is not an SPC grad, they always speak with such respect for our program.”

Demers reminded them that what they’d accomplished was something that no one had ever asked of a group of nursing students before.

“After the grit and fortitude that you have shown this last semester, YOU are who I want to be my nurses.”

Next, College of Nursing Chair Virginia Schneider moderated select graduates, one from each clinical group, who spoke on behalf of their groups.

Like many others, Kevin Miles thanked faculty and staff for all their efforts to make sure his group was able to graduate.

“Words can’t even explain how happy and grateful we are,” Miles said. “We truly appreciate all the hard work the staff went through, all the last minute changes, the things you put together for us. It would have been devastating to not be able to graduate.”

During her turn, Brenda Geraldo showed everyone her grandmother’s nursing pin and congratulated her fellow graduates.

“We cried, yelled, screamed and got a couple of extra gray hairs, but we did it,” she said.

After the last student spoke, Schneider commended them again and wished them all well. Then, mics were again unmuted to allow for more celebratory cheers and applause. People called out names or just whooped and clapped. Pets were hugged, and two little voices rose in unison above the din.

“Mama’s number one! Mama’s number one!” they called, as their mother pulled them into her arms, beaming.

Nursing Program Graduate Shares Thanks


Every student within St. Petersburg College’s College of Nursing has a unique story, perspective and personal goal. Many share their hopes and allow their professors to contribute to applications to graduate programs. One of our biggest thrills has always been sharing in the celebration as their professional dreams continue to come true through further education. 

We’re pleased to share the story, in the form of the following letter, of our ADN and BSN program graduate, Adam Cortez, who is soon to be an exceptional advanced practice nurse and military officer.

Dear Professor Murphy:

I wanted to inform you of some great news. I have been accepted to the University of South Florida’s Family Nurse Practitioner program and will begin my course of study this fall 2019.

On behalf of my family, we thank you for believing in me as both a student and future nurse practitioner. Your letter of recommendation is what provided me with the best possible chance of acceptance. I simply cannot thank you enough, and I am so grateful and humbled.

I am currently in the “completing requirements prior to the first day of class” phase. This entails background checks, drug testing, immunization history, and a few more heavy details related to the school. I will have orientation this coming June, and I am very excited.

After I contacted you earlier on in 2018, I submitted my application on October 14, 2018; my interview occurred on January 31, 2019, and I heard back about my full acceptance to the university on March 8, 2019.

I was made aware by my interviewer, who is also a professor in the program, that many students who work full-time and attend classes full-time – or even part-time – have a higher tendency to fail. With this information in hand, I plan to attend part-time and work part-time to ensure my success within the program. Although this is going to be a very lengthy degree, the professor made a very clear comment to me, which truly opened my eyes: “What are you in a rush for? We are training our students here at the university to be successful and confident primary care providers so that when they enter the community independently, they will be able to provide the best care possible”. I appreciated this information and took it to heart. Slow and steady wins the race.

I am very excited to share this news with you and cannot wait to begin classes this fall. Being away from the classroom for a few months was a strange feeling for me, as I have only ever known school my whole life. Schooling and advanced education have pulled me and my family from the depths of poverty, as well as allowed me to save many lives. I ask that you keep me in your continual prayers as I journey on. I will keep you updated of my progress as I move through the semesters.

My ultimate goal is to complete the FNP-APRN program within the allotted three-year time frame and apply to the United States Air Force, which will allow me to commission as a Captain (O3).

Please send my warmest and deepest regards to All of the BSN faculty: Professor Lee, Professor Watts, Professor Briggs, Professor Louis, Professor Thielman and Professor McGill to name a few off memory. I apologize if I missed any, but know that my sincerest appreciation is with you, as well. My future as a nurse practitioner has been ensured ONLY because the ADN and BSN professors of SPC-Health take great measures to ensure the success of every student they teach through the demonstration of compassion, repetition and sacrifice. Professor Murphy, your instruction, as well as that of your fellow colleagues, has guided me onto a path of confidence and determination as I set out for my goals of one day independently practicing in my own clinic while serving this great nation as an Air Force Officer.

Thank you choosing to be a Professor, I couldn’t have imagined my BSN experience any other way.

God bless, and thank you again,

Adam Cortez, BSN
May 2018 SPC Graduate
2019 University of South Florida FNP Student

SPC Dental Hygiene BAS Program Celebrates 15 years

dental hygiene bas

Dr. Alwyn Leiba, current Chair of Miami Dade College’s School of Health Sciences, was a dental hygienist working full time in his field, but he knew he wanted to branch out in his career. 

“My ultimate goal was either education or consulting, and the stepping stone to both of those careers was a bachelor’s degree,” he said.

Leiba chose St. Petersburg College for the flexibility of the Dental Hygiene Bachelor of Applied Science, but says he found much more.

“Choosing SPC for the dental hygiene BAS was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Leiba said. “SPC was the first and only college in Florida that offers the bachelor’s degree 100 percent online, which allowed me to work 40 hours a week and still complete my studies. And the faculty at SPC were amazing – they really sparked my interest and moved me forward to completion.”

After graduating in 2009, Leiba went on to earn an MBA and PhD in Higher Education Leadership. He was recently elected president of the Florida Dental Hygiene Association, the first African-American (Jamaican) male dental hygienist in the 92-year history of the FDHA to be elected.

Though SPC has been training dental hygienists for their associate degrees since 1963, 2019 marks the 15th year of St. Petersburg College’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene (BASDH) program.

Why a bachelor’s degree?

2016 graduate and current SPC Dental Hygiene Advisory committee member Jessica Raymond-Albritten said in a recent article she published in RDH magazine that she chose to pursue her bachelor’s degree after finding that she wanted more out of her dental hygiene career.

“My reason was personal growth and the hopes that I may one day transcend clinical dental hygiene,” she wrote. “Pursuing an advanced degree is a significant investment in both your finances and your time. It’s important to be emotionally committed, identify your personal goals and choose the right program.”  

Dental Hygiene Program Director Joan Tonner said the bachelor’s degree offers a lot more flexibility in career choices for dental hygienists, outside of the usual clinical offices.

“We try to expose our students to many career options, and when you have a bachelor’s degree, there is a different set of job opportunities you can go into, like management or teaching,” Tonner said.

In addition to publishing journal articles, SPC BASDH graduates have found other honors, like 2017 graduate Sandra Arill, who claimed the Fall 2018 Florida Dental Hygiene Association’s Swann D. Knowles Achievement Award, which recognizes organization members who contributed to the profession through service and dedication. Arill said she sought a bachelor’s because she wanted to prepare for a second career after retirement from clinical practice.

“I had always thought about working in public health, and knew I needed a bachelor’s degree. I also wanted to advance my education and get more involved in my professional association,” Arill said.

Arill found as she started looking around for a program that many of her colleagues had graduated from SPC, and they highly recommended it. She was also attracted to the fact that she could do the program fully online from her home in Miami. In addition to the credentials she earned with her 2017 graduation, Arill said she had a professional awakening.

“My SPC experience strengthened the skills I needed to become more involved in my community,” she said. Dental public health is my passion, and so for my Capstone project I developed Project Rainbow Smiles, an oral health program for preschoolers. I’ve been able to enact and grow the program, and it’s still growing.”

For 15 years, SPC’s Dental Hygiene bachelor’s program has evolved and grown, and will continue to do so, considering that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for dental hygienists is expected to rise by 20 percent. Amy Krueger, chair of SPC’s Dental Hygiene associate degree program, said that eventually, the field may require a higher degree.

“The swing now is that all hygienists have a bachelor’s,” Krueger said. “If one person has a BA over and AS, they will definitely have an advantage for being hired.”

SPC Partners with Florida KidCare

florida kid care

In the spirit of our Community of Care, St. Petersburg College secured a grant from Florida KidCare that will help us disseminate information to staff, students and the public regarding an organization which assures that Florida children have access to affordable, quality health care from birth through the end of age 18. All Florida children are eligible, even if one or both parents is working or in school.

What KidCare Offers

More than 147,000 children in Florida are currently living without health insurance, but may be eligible for low-cost or completely free health insurance through Florida KidCare. With four unique Florida KidCare programs – Medicaid for children, MediKids, Florida Healthy Kids and the Children’s Medical Services Managed Care Plan – the simple and free application process is designed to identify the best fit for the family.

All four Florida KidCare coverage options include
• Doctor visits
• Check-ups
• Hospital stays
• Surgeries
• Immunizations
• Prescriptions
• Emergencies
• Vision and hearing
• Dental
• Mental health services and more

What KidCare Costs

Most families pay nothing at all, and many families pay as little as $15 or $20 a month. Families not eligible for subsidized coverage may purchase Florida KidCare at the full-pay monthly premium, which is competitively priced. A free online eligibility calculator is available to help Florida families interested in applying for Florida KidCare. This tool utilizes two key pieces of information — family size and annual household income — to estimate a family’s monthly premium payment for Florida KidCare coverage.

How to Apply

Applying is both easy and free, and with year-round enrollment, families can apply for Florida KidCare at any time. Just fill out one application and Florida KidCare will match you with the right option based on your children’s ages, household size and family income. Parents can apply online or call 1-888-540-KIDS (5437) to apply over the phone or have an application mailed directly to them. Types of documents needed may vary depending on the family; however, the following categories are listed as helpful examples of the types of documents an applicant should have available before starting an application:

• Tribal Membership
• Pay Stub
• Proof of Income
• Proof of Unearned Income

If you or someone you know has an uninsured child or faces struggles with high premiums, please take a moment to look at the free online eligibility calculator to estimate your monthly premium payment and see if KidCare might be a good fit.

SPC Helps Special Olympics

special olympics

St. Petersburg College was on hand at the 2018 Florida Special Olympics, with students and staff from the dental hygiene and physical therapy assistant programs performing health screenings.

SPC’s Amy Krueger, Academic Chair of the AS-Dental Hygiene Program, along with Katie Woods, Academic Chair of the AS-Health Sciences Program, assisted in setting up the Special Smiles section of Healthy Athletes at the Fall 2018 Special Olympics State Games in Orlando on Friday, November 9. The Florida Special Olympics Special Smiles program is one of the largest oral health screening activities for Special Olympians in the US.
Over the course of the weekend, hygienists from all over the state – including SPC alumni – screened people for oral conditions, provided fluoride treatments, fitted mouth guards, and gave referrals to a total of 506 athletes.

Concurrently, Alex Kerekes, Lab Facilitator in the Physical Therapist Assistant program, and current PTA student Nina Resic assisted in the Fun Fitness portion of Special Olympics by providing screenings, including those of flexibility, strength, and aerobic capacity, to assess the needs of the athletes, who compete in various events from flag football and cheerleading to power lifting.

This year, more than 3,000 athletes were screened over 12 hours between all of the disciplines at the Special Olympics State Games. Many PT and PTA Programs from around the state of Florida have students attend to perform the screenings. This is a wonderful opportunity for PT and PTA students to work together in providing care for the athletes while collecting useful data that Special Olympics will then use to make improvements in their athletic programs.

Kerekes said the opportunity for physical therapists and PTA students to work together is essential because they will work closely in their careers, and this relationship can be developed through the interaction.

“The PT/PTA relationship is essential in providing comprehensive care to those who are treated in the physical therapy setting,” Kerekes said. “Students don’t always get this interaction until they graduate and get jobs in the clinic. With this event, PT and PTA students have the opportunity to work together in screening each athlete while developing skills that each will use with each other in the clinic.”

Health Scholarship Winners Named

healthcare scholarship

This year’s three recipients of the Pinellas Park Medical District Scholarships include two St. Petersburg College students. The 2018 winners are Tanya Lopez, Shahed Hmeidan and Brandy McCowan.

Each year, the Pinellas Park Medical District awards scholarships to civic-minded students seeking health care degrees at an institution in the city of Pinellas Park. The awards are based on merit, accomplishment and community-minded efforts. Dr. Daniel Strauss, Chairman of the Pinellas Park Medical District and Dean of the National University of Health Sciences, developed this scholarship award in 2016, in partnership with the Pinellas Park Chamber of Commerce. Strauss said that an important element of the scholarship is that applicants are required to have either done community service in the area or propose an initiative that would help people.

“We consider it a think tank for creative ideas,” Strauss said. “Sometimes you get the best ideas from outside the box.”

health scholarshipLopez, who was awarded a $2500 scholarship, is a St. Petersburg College student working towards a Bachelor of Applied Science in Health Services Administration. She is a full-time student, mother, wife and serves in the Army National Guard, in addition to her time donated at All Children’s Hospital and St. Petersburg General Hospital.

Hmeidan is a student at an SPC Partnership institution, Barry University, doing her master’s work in Physician Assistant Studies. She earned a $1500 scholarship.



health scholarshipMcCowan is also an SPC student working on her associate degree in Health Sciences. She was awarded a $1,000 scholarship.



The award winners attended the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber breakfast meeting on July 19 for the award presentation, and they are also invited to attend the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce Inaugural Gala in January to share details of their health initiatives.

Strauss said this year’s winners really rose to the top of numerous applications.

“They stood apart by their dedication and the amount of time they donate to non-profit organizations,” he said.

Lopez, a full-time student, works part time, said she was surprised and happy to win the award.

“I feel so grateful, because it really helps out with the bills and my tuition, as well,” she said. “This degree will help me get a higher management position in the field I love: healthcare.”

This scholarship is partially supported by the community. To find out how to donate, just visit the Pinellas Park Chamber of Commerce’s website.



Nursing Instructor Honored for Work to Prevent Child Deaths in Hot Cars

child deaths in hot cars

According to a recent CNN article, as of the end of July 2017, the number of children who died of heatstroke from being left in hot cars has soared. So far this year, 29 children in the U.S. have died. And according to, Florida is in the top five worst states for such deaths, with 77 deaths in the past 18 years.

But St. Petersburg College Nursing Faculty Member Jeanne Siegel was recently honored by her alma mater, the University of Alabama’s Capstone College of Nursing, for her work to prevent child deaths in hot cars. Siegel, who graduated last May with her Doctorate in Nursing Practice, was given the Innovation in Practice Award in August for her scholarly project, “Promoting Parental Behaviors that Prevent Motor Vehicle Heatstroke”.

Siegel said she was inspired to pursue this project after a 2014 Tampa Bay Times article, which revealed high numbers of instances in the area of children – usually around age two or younger – needing rescue from hot vehicles after parents left them there. These tragedies area almost always unintentional, and often happen when parents have a lot on their minds or are experiencing a break in routine.

“I wanted to find out what behavior parents of infants would be willing to adopt to prevent them from forgetting their child inside a motor vehicle,” Siegel said.

Siegel, who is also a pediatric nurse practitioner, was lauded in her recommendation for the award for her educational background, certifications, honors, awards and professional positions.

“The project was highly innovative and has the potential to lead to the development of the first-ever clinical practice guidelines for prevention of heatstroke in children,” Siegel’s professor, Barbara Ann Graves wrote.

Siegel said she wanted to focus on behaviors to adopt to try to prevent parents from leaving their children in cars, because most of the information on the subject was after the fact.

“We want to go where kids go: pediatrician offices, hospitals, community health centers,” she said. “I went to the Meese-Countryside Hospital post-partum unit to implement instruction for new parents. You have to tell people to not let their kid roll off a table, and you also have to tell them how to prevent leaving their child in the car.”

Some strategies for parents to prevent a tragedy include “looking before they lock”, and putting a purse or wallet in the back seat with the child. Siegel said there are devices available to alert parents if they are getting out of a car with a baby in the back, but they are often unreliable. Senators Al Franken and Richard Blumenthal recently introduced legislation requiring all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with a child safety alert system. In fact, General Motors has already introduced a Rear Seat Reminder.

“It’s good news that auto companies are now beginning to include technology to alert people who opened the back door before they got in the front seat, whether it was to load a baby or to toss a briefcase in the back.”

Siegel said the award, which came with a letter, a certificate and a Lexan plaque, was a big surprise. She is now working on publishing her research in a pediatric journal.

“I was surprised and honored to be recognized for carrying out a study about this serious topic,” Siegel said. “More preventative strategies have to be implemented because we are losing kids every single day. And it could happen to anyone.”

Health Education Center Hosts Healthcare Careers Discovery Academy

healthcare careers

St. Petersburg College is providing an amazing opportunity for current high school students and recent 2017 grads who are considering healthcare careers at our Summer High School Health Career Discovery Academy.  At the two-day event, students can learn more about the high-skill, high-demand and high-wage health care careers, as well as the education requirements needed to enter the field. The event will be held at the Caruth Health Education Center, 7200 66th St N, Pinellas Park, FL 33781, on July 26 and 27 from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry is predicted to add more than two million new jobs in the next decade – a much faster employment growth rate than any other occupation. With a median annual wage for healthcare practitioners like nurses, physicians and dental hygienists at $63,420 in May 2016, salaries in healthcare are much higher than the median annual wage for all occupations, which was $37,040.

This two-day event will introduce high school students to many different options in healthcare careers. They can also learn about all of the degrees and certificates offered in health care at SPC in our nationally-accredited programs with top-notch facilities, including a patient-care clinic for dental hygiene, an $11 million building for the College of Orthotics and Prosthetics, a multi-million dollar Simulation Center for Excellence in Nursing and 32,000-square-foot Veterinary Technology Center located next to Pinellas County Animal Services.

Event attendees will:

• Learn about health career job outlook and opportunities in Tampa Bay
• Tour the campus and labs with fun, interactive and hands-on activities
• Have lunch and ask questions with faculty, students, deans and program directors
• Speak with Career and Academic Advisors
• Learn about financial aid, dual enrollment and our USF partnership with FUSE

The Summer High School Academy is FREE and lunch and a snack will be provided each day. Also, participants will be entered for a chance to win a Windows-10 Tablet!

Seats are limited and an RSVP is required by filling out the survey invite.

For any questions please contact Dawn Janusz at

Certification training grants available

phlebotomy grant

The Tampa Bay TechHire program provides grants for free accelerated training and paid work experience opportunities to over 1,000 youth and young adults in high-growth industries. St. Petersburg College is an approved educational provider on this grant, and the Health Sciences Department will provide training in Phlebotomy.

The phlebotomy grant covers tuition, as well as lab and certification fees for the selected students.
Along with any program-specific requirements for application, applicants for the TechHire grant must:
• Be between the ages of 17-29
• Possess a high school diploma or GED
• Be unemployed or underemployed

phlebotomy grant

St. Petersburg College Career Outreach Specialist David Hopkins said the program was seeing a wide variety of applicants for the phlebotomy grant.

“We’ve had individuals looking to get into health care for the first time, SPC health care degree seekers looking to pick up a certification on the side, CNAs or HHAs looking to find a new career path within the medical field, and 2016-17 high school seniors looking to pick up a certification,” Hopkins said.

Training will be offered on multiple campuses, or with sufficient enrollments, may be provided at local schools.

“This is different from a regular course, in that it is portable and we can do sessions on site for schools or organizations that might want to offer it to students or employees,” Hopkins said.

According to Hopkins, the program is definitely growing quickly.

“The Phlebotomy class is growing very quickly. The first class had seven students, the second class had 10, and now the third section starting in March already has 23 enrollments and will probably have 30 by the time it launches the last week of March.”

For more information regarding applying to the program or bringing the program to your organization, contact David Hopkins at 727-341-4761, or