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The Catalyst

Nursing grad: All-around star performer

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

MUSC nursing student Toya Williams and colleagues treated more than 1,400 during their December 2013 visit to Uganda. photo provided

Imagine working on a Bachelor of Science in nursing at MUSC and finishing a practicum at the same time you’re pursuing a master’s in health exercise and sports sciences at The Citadel. If that schedule doesn’t seem challenging enough, add to it working in the MUSC Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit, teaching Zumba classes at the Wellness Center, spending dozens of volunteer hours helping others in the Charleston community, serving in MUSC student government and presiding over the Multi-Cultural Nurses Association.

High achiever would hardly begin to describe Toya Williams, a student in the College of Nursing class of 2014 and MUSC Presidential Scholar who will be graduating this week.

That being said, pursuing the field of nursing was far from the original path she was on. 

Growing up in Sumter, Williams and her family had other plans for her future. The eldest of three children, she was “the boss” of her brother and sister. She was also an entertainer. Since she was three years old, she progressed through tap, ballet, point, jazz, and lyrical dance, spending countless hours in lessons, practice, and recitals.

Ultimately, dreams of becoming a TopCat dancer for the Carolina Panthers fueled her passion to exceed the set of qualities necessary to capture a highly prized spot on the prestigious cheerleading squad: personality, showmanship, dance skills, professionalism and physical fitness, all of which she had in spades.

Her ambitions continued while attending Winthrop University where she studied exercise science. Williams made the university’s elite dance team her freshman year and they performed regularly during basketball season. They flew with the team, even made appearances at NCAA games which provided a similar experience to that of being on an NFL or NBA dance squad. She began researching professional dance teams and trying to narrow down the list of which ones she would audition for.

But life had other ideas for Williams.

After graduating from Winthrop, she was selected for an internship in exercise science at the MUSC Wellness Center and there she was able to work with Janis Newton and the Healthy Charleston Challenge. She loved helping people transform their lives and health and reach their goals.

Newton, director of the HCC, thinks the world of Williams. “Toya is a very special person and a most impressive student.  The Wellness Center was fortunate to have her involved in the HCC and with Zumba group classes.   She has a special gift when working with people and instantly earns their trust, respect, and admiration. She will be missed by so many at MUSC – both professionally and personally.  What an inspiration she is and Duke will be one lucky hospital when Toya starts her RN career in July.”

After her internship, she decided to stay at MUSC and later applied for a position as a patient care technician on the CTICU. Although the work was entirely different from what she was accustomed to doing, it suited her thirst for knowledge and love of people.

Noticing her proclivity for delivering compassionate and appropriate care to patients, people told her she should consider becoming a nurse. At first she didn’t see it, but eventually she came around to the idea.

“People would tell me, ‘I think you would make a good nurse,’ and after a while, I thought to myself, wait a minute, I like what these nurses do. I like how they relate to patients, how they interact with each other, the autonomy they have in their environment, and the impact they make every day. I realized nurses are vital to the process,” Williams said.

She had an acceptance to MUSC but because she was also taking classes at The Citadel, she was not able to qualify for more financial aid that semester. One day while at work, she received an email informing her she had been selected as a Robert Wood Johnson New Careers in Nursing Scholar. The scholarship would pay for her entire semester of school. That was just the sign she needed.

“If I was unsure about whether I was making the right choice about pursuing nursing, this scholarship eled all doubt about my place in nursing and confirmed my decision was the right one,” Williams said.

Her direct superior, Vance Donahoo, RN, MBA, manager of the CTICU and CICU, agrees that nursing is the right field for her. “Toya is a very dedicated person. She is dedicated to nursing and to completing her goals,” he said.

Williams loves the clinical area she’s in and plans to continue her work in that area. In March, she accepted a position in the new graduate nurse residency program in Duke Cardiothoracic Surgical ICU that will begin after graduation. Once she has completed the residency program, she will have a permanent position there.

“I love this area. I love how fast-paced CT is and how much critical thinking it takes. Even though we’re dealing primarily with heart and lungs, those two organs are so vital they have some sort of contribution to every other organ. I love how quickly the patient can have a significant turnaround.”

At the College of Nursing, Williams has earned a reputation as willing and dependable. Ida Spruill, Ph.D., RN, associate professor at the College of Nursing, has a great appreciation for her work ethic and attitude.

“Toya has so much energy. She’s engaging, open and personable,” she said. “You will never hear her complain; she just makes time and gets things done. She’s one of those very few people who when I pick up the phone and ask for something, her answer is always, ‘How soon do you need it?’ I ask and I know it’s done, and she does it with style, smiling the entire time.”

Williams represents the College of Nursing in the MUSC student government, and she sits on the service committee that manages MUSC’s student volunteer outreach throughout the community. Some of her favorite projects have included Relay for Life, the Cooper River Bridge Run, and the Delma M. Woods and Aleta McLeod-Bryant Annual Health and Wellness Fair where the College of Nursing provided health care to underserved people.

Toya Williams was among 10 inductees to the MUSC Student Leadership Society on April 16. photo provided

She is extremely proud to have been selected as an MUSC Presidential Scholar. The scholars are divided into groups and each develops and implements a community service project. Her group was paired-up with the Harvest Free Medical Clinic on the old Charleston Navy base, and they created a community resource guide for the patients and community at large.  The entire process was a valuable learning experience for her.

“We learned that what the academic community thinks the community needs and what the community itself actually needs are really two incredibly different things. You have to listen to the true needs of a community,” she said.

She was also was inducted into the MUSC Student Leadership Society this year. Students selected made notable contributions to the university through their character, service, commitment and actions. She is also involved in an interprofessional group at MUSC called SM3: Student Mentors for Minorities in Medicine. She enjoys mentoring high school students who are interested in her area of health care.

In December, Williams and four classmates went to Uganda on a medical mission trip for 10 days. She was the triage team leader and “loved it.” “I am ready to go back,” she said. “I only wish I could have stayed longer. It’s literally one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Where does a student find the resolve to give so much of herself? Williams credits her family and God.

“My family is awesome. I’ve had their support 110 percent of the time. I can’t put into words how supportive they’ve been … encouraging me, telling me that I can do it, to keep going, to take things day by day. They remind me that there’s someone higher than myself that will get me through this. That’s God.”

“Plus,” she adds, “My chocolate toy poodle, Nala, helps keep me sane as well as very busy.”

In summing up her time at MUSC, she said, “I am proud of beating the odds. When I started in the College of Nursing, I knew I was taking on quite a bit, but I also knew it needed to be done. My drive to get things done and get it done in a way that was professional was important to me. I embraced what the college is about and what nursing as a profession is about.”

New 2014 graduate Toya Williams, R.N. photo by Danielle Giddens, In the Garden Photography

Williams knows she is a different person today than she was when she started. “I’m this close to being a nurse and I never realized how capable I was. I think I really downplayed my abilities and truly didn’t think I had what it took to do it all and to be president of an organization like MCNA. I admire my College of Nursing advisers who forced me to look at myself, to see leadership qualities I never saw before. They planted a seed.”

Williams shared her affinity for her advisor, Tiffany Williams, DNP, instructor in the College of Nursing. “She constantly encouraged me. She always told me, ‘Toya, I think you can do this.’”

Dr. Williams spoke of Toya with the same warmth and regard. “Toya is an amazing student, now RN.  She makes me proud that she's joined the profession of nursing.  I would be honored to have her care for me or anyone in my family.”









May 19, 2014



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