NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – May is nurses’ month and the number of people entering the profession is not meeting demand. A scholarship named for a nurse who died from COVID-19 is aiming to help change that, and its first recipient looks to honor his legacy.

“Jamarcus was the first candidate that we fielded and awarded a scholarship to from the Gary Woodward Fund,” said Ascension Saint Thomas Foundation Vice President Dan Thompson. “I actually just learned something today listening to Jim Marcus’s story. Ironically, and maybe rather magically, Gary’s story is a lot like Jamarcus’.”

Gary Woodward was a beloved nurse at Ascension Saint Thomas West who spent much of his life in a different career.

“Gary was an older professional who was not in the nursing field and he experienced St. Thomas as a family member to a patient and he was exposed to the care team and the processes around caring for people in the hospital,” said Thompson. “And he was so moved that he went back to school and changed his career to become a nurse and began working at St. Thomas.”

Woodward contracted COVID-19 and died from complications. His family wanted to honor him by supporting the education of nurses by advancing their degrees. JaMarcus Corlew was the first recipient of the Gary Woodward Nursing Scholarship.

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“I went to college and got my degree in graphic design, a minor in photography, did that for a few years,” said Corlew. “My grandmother’s would actually give me the passion for nursing.”

Corlew’s grandmother was diabetic. He said she suffered a kitchen injury and she went to the doctor with a small scab.. that soon turned into a bigger wound that led to the amputation of her leg and another limb all before she died. He started off as a CNA before becoming a licensed practical nurse. He recently graduated as a registered nurse.

“When I first started nursing school, and everywhere we would go if we go to the doctor’s office, (she says) this is my grandson, he’s going to be a nurse and things like that. I often think about that all the time. I think my grandmother would be extremely happy.. I try not to cry, extremely happy just to know that I’m doing this,” Corlew said. “She never got to see me graduate. She never got to see me finish even when I became an LPN. And so I think this has been amazing. She has given me my passion, even the encouragement down through the years.”

Corlew is a licensed practical nurse and LPN-RN student at Western Kentucky University and plans to use the scholarship to complete his Associate of Science in Nursing. It’s all while he works to educate others as well.

“I now work as a trained educator, and I’m over a medical assistant program,” he said. “Our program is active in seven schools across the Nashville area.”

The Gary Woodward Nursing Scholarship is part of the hospital’s efforts to get more nurses to bedsides that need them.

“Nursing is particularly challenged right now,” said Thompson. “But I do believe that on the heels of COVID, there really is an opportunity to see a whole resurgence of people who recognize the importance of this field, who gravitate towards things that are challenging and meaningful.”

The Tennessee Nurses Association said the pandemic created a domino effect where burnout rates among nurses are at an all-time high, while the number of those entering the workforce lags behind in meeting demand. They said healthcare systems must incentivize nurses to enter the profession and stay.