Among the outstanding instructors at EPCOT (Earnest Pruett Center of Technology) is Deborah Hilley. She is a health science teacher and advisor to HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America).
Hilley is a registered nurse and works hard with all of her medical science students. One of the things she strives to instill in them is ethics.
“Do the right thing for the right reason,” is one of her favorite quotes to those students. One of her students gave her a pillow with that quote on it.
For the past 18 years, Hilley has taught at EPCOT where each year she works to achieve more with the students. There is now a second health science teacher, Shainah Hawes, and they work together to increase the standards for the students. They also offer dual enrollment courses.
“Each year we have a goal,” said Hilley.
This year that goal was to have the students enrolled in the home health aide courses take the national certification tests.
All six of those students passed this test becoming the first post-secondary students in Alabama to take the NOCT exam. Hilley is very proud of those students who worked hard to achieve this goal.
Hilley enjoys her role as HOSA sponsor which involves students from throughout Jackson County. They have monthly projects and take class trips throughout the year.
They have visited St. Jude’s Hospital and Shriners Hospital. She adds some side attractions to each trip to add some extra fun for her students. The HOSA students participate each year at the state competition.
Prior to coming to EPCOT, Hilley worked at Jackson County Hospital (now Highlands Medical Center) for 23 years. She just decided she wanted to do something different, so she went to Athens College to get her certification. She can still be found at the hospital some days as her students do rotations at Highlands.
One of her favorite classes at EPCOT is the forensics class which has become very popular. The students do a lot of clinics thanks to the cooperation of many agencies.
“We have great support from the Jackson County Sherriff’s Department, the district attorney, and Judges Holt and Graham,” said Hilley.
The students also visit the funeral homes, and the coroner comes to speak.
The favorite part of Hilley’s day is when the students come to her class. “I like greeting the students and getting them started. I feel that it is important to interact with them as they enter the classroom.”
“I want my students to know that I cared about each one of them as individuals,” added Hilley. “I want them to get the most out of their education.” She enjoys keeping in touch with her students and watching them mature as they pursue jobs in the medical field.
One piece of advice that Hilley gives her students is “Never burn your bridges where you work”. She encourages them to keep a good relationship even when they are leaving a position.
Hilley would encourage any high school student who is thinking about a career in the medical field to enroll in the health science classes at EPCOT. Going through clinicals helps a student know if this is the right field. There are many areas in the medical field, and the EPCOT classes expose students to these. Students get to experience the hospital and nursing home fields. They have some students interested in veterinary medicine, so these students get to go to Cutie Petooties, the Scottsboro Animal Shelter, and the Rolling Vet. They experience whatever is going on that day. This could include seeing animals go out for adoption, grooming, surgery, or observing the loss of a pet.
Nurses are the number one demand in the health care field in Alabama. Hilley explains to her students that there is job security in the nursing field. Some students complete their CNA then choose to continue their education to become registered nurses. Having the CNA allows students to work while they attend classes.
Hilley was in charge of the successful Tar Wars project at EPCOT which received two Governor State Recognition Awards. That program lasted about ten years. The HOSA students continue to win at both the state and national levels of competition.
Students in Hilley’s classes get the benefit of her many years of experience in the nursing field. She is not only a registered nurse and health science educator, but she has also been a phlebotomist, a hospice administrator, and EKG technician.
Hilley said that she loves bedside nursing because that helps you get to know your patients. She enjoys sharing her experiences with her students.
Hilley plans to continue teaching at EPCOT for at least three more years. She would like to spend more time with her husband and their children as well as do some traveling. That is what she is looking forward to when she makes the decision to retire.