ALL IN THE FAMILY: Mother, daughter receive doctorate degrees in nursing field from Alcorn

Published 8:37 pm Wednesday, May 31, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Mother’s Day weekend was extra special for Dr. Ursula Brooks-Clemons and her mother, Dr. Hazel Anderson Washington, from Natchez.

They share a lot. Both are members of as members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and both are members of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Not only did Washington and her children celebrate Mother’s Day weekend together, but she and her eldest daughter shared the unique experience of getting their doctorate degrees in the field of nursing at the same time from Alcorn State University’s Natchez Campus.

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Clemons, 44, works in clinics based in Claiborne County and Delhi, Louisiana, as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Washington, 65, teaches in the nurse practitioner program at Alcorn State University while also working as a nurse practitioner at Claiborne County Family Health Center.

While both are achieving the highest academic honor in their respective fields at the same time, it was Washington who inspired Clemons to pursue nursing, she said.

“I’ve always admired and looked up to my mom growing up because she’s been in nursing 30 plus years. I’ve seen her climb the ladder,” Clemons said. “I decided to change my major from biology to nursing because I’ve seen her in the field and I see that I like to help people. It’s a very caring, compassionate field, and there are many options that you can take in the field of nursing. Looking at her, I saw the different paths that she took and thought, ‘Yeah, that would be something great that I can do.’ My grandmother, her mother, was also a nurse and my two aunts, her two sisters, are nurses, so it’s in the family.”

Washington said her father, the late Rev. James C. Anderson, instilled in her and her children the value of education.

He served as pastor of Greater Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and Pry’s Temple Missionary Baptist Church.

“He always told us anything that’s hard to get is worth having,” Washington said.

Her mother, Katie L. Anderson, is a retired nurse and still living. She taught Washington and her two sisters how to give injections from an early age, so a nursing career was always on her mind. However, it wasn’t until after Clemons, her oldest daughter, was born and was diagnosed with congenital heart disease that she started the nursing program.

While an undergrad, Washington was studying biology at Mississippi Valley State with the goal of entering the nursing program, which was discontinued while she was there.

“I thought more about (nursing) as I had to keep taking (Clemons) to the hospital,” she said. “It stayed on my mind. … I wanted to learn more about her condition and I wanted to do more to help others. I had already experienced it with my mother, so I was determined to finish my career in nursing so I could help others and to be able to care for my child who was sick all the time.”

She completed her undergraduate degree at Alcorn in 1989 and her Master’s at Purdue University in 2016. Clemens earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from Southern University and Alcorn, Master’s in Nursing Education at Alcorn and a post-Master’s certificate from the University of Southern Mississippi.

For their Doctoral program, Washington said she and her daughter shared some classes together but never did they share the workload. The academic work was a challenge they each had to struggle with independently.

They helped each other through their studies by keeping each other on task, Clemons said.

“The work was very strenuous and time-consuming,” she said. “We missed out on a lot in the last two years. That’s for sure. It’s like I told her, I’m getting my life back now.”

But the hard work paid off, as they both finished the program with honors.

There have been times when they have shared and referred patients to one another.

As a psychiatric nurse, Clemons said she treats the patients in both body and mind, but there are physical ailments that her mother may have more experience with than she, and vice versa.

“We’re at the top of the ladder, and we have many options that we can take at this point,” Clemons said. “It’s the end of the end and it’s the highest level of achievement that you can acquire.”

With her degree, Clemons said she would like to partake in lobbying efforts for various nursing issues, particularly the fight for Mississippi and Louisiana’s nurses to have the authority and ability to open an independent practice without a collaborative partner to sign off on the paperwork.

“It creates issues if you’re working with a collaborator, especially in the school of psychiatrists. There are a few in this area. So basically, it’s a hoop that you have to jump through to be able to do what you want to do.”

Washington said she plans to use her acquired degree in nursing to possibly at other universities and, like Clemons, participate in peer-review journals and offer some consulting services.

“I do have some other goals in mind that we don’t want to bring out just yet,” she said with a smile. “Don’t count your eggs before they hatch.”