Cover Feature

Students, Hospitals Benefit From Partnership

Josue smiling for the camera

Josue Saint-Fleur participated in the Preceptorship-to-Hire program at Moffitt Cancer Center. [Photo: Octavio Jones, for USF News]


AARON MILLS, GABRIELLE SAVOLIDIS AND JOSUE SAINT-FLEUR thought they knew where their careers were headed.

Mills, who earned a bachelor’s degree in health care administration during his seven years of service in the Air Force, planned to become a physician assistant. Saint-Fleur, with a bachelor’s degree in biology, was working in a lab as he pursued a career as a researcher. And Savolidis, with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, was teaching second grade.

All three realized their passions lay elsewhere, and their very different paths converged at the USF Health College of Nursing. This month, they are earning their bachelor’s degree in nursing after completing the college’s accelerated second-degree pathway. Designed for students who have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, the highly competitive program offers an accelerated curriculum and is completed in four consecutive semesters.

During their last semester, Mills, Savolidis and Saint-Fleur participated in the college’s Preceptorship-to-Hire program — P2H for short. The college’s partnership with Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and Tampa General Hospital enables the students to transition from college to professional practice before they sit for the nursing licensure exam. Participating students may be offered employment opportunities after successfully completing the training.

Annmarie Chavarria, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Tampa General, says the program helps nursing students feel more prepared for practice and gives them a competitive advantage in the job market. The hospital benefits by being able to hire nurses who are more clinically prepared and who are a good fit for the institution.

“The USF College of Nursing does an outstanding job preparing students academically,” Chavarria says. “But, it is up to the clinical sites and clinical partners to be sure these students have enough real-life practice to feel confident when they graduate.”

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Aaron Mills with his preceptor, registered nurse Pamela Freely, at Tampa General Hospital’s Brandon Healthplex. [Photo: KAREN BARRERA, TGH Communications and Partnerships]

Aaron Mills

Mills, whose background includes serving as a paramedic and a firefighter, is medically retired from the Air Force. He sustained multiple injuries in a 2018 parachuting accident during training and has endured numerous surgeries and extensive rehabilitation. His doctors and physician assistants “were phenomenal,” he says.

“But, it was the nurses who made me feel like a human,” Mills says. “They were there every day, encouraging me.”

Much as he appreciates the expertise of physicians, he sees nursing as the foundation of a career devoted to health care.

“I want to be more involved with patient care as far as getting to know the patient beyond the clinical understanding and treatment planning,” he says.

He also hopes to serve as an example. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, men made up 12% of the nursing workforce in 2019.

“There’s a need for people to see that there are capable men who are willing to take care of others,” Mills says.

In the P2H program, Mills worked in the emergency department at Tampa General’s Brandon Healthplex. That was by design: “I was already familiar with the ER because of my paramedic experience and I enjoy the symphony of the chaos that happens there.” He plans to pursue a doctorate in nursing practice at USF beginning next fall.

Photo of Josue

 [Photo: Octavio Jones, for USF News]

Josue Saint-Fleur

A different kind of medical crisis led Saint-Fleur to switch his career trajectory from scientific research to nursing. In 2020, his twins, Josiah and Janiah, were born at 27 weeks.

“They had to be on life support and I spent almost four months in the hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit,” he says. “I didn’t know how to be available to them, how to care for them. Those were dark times for me. There was not much I could do and it feels terrible to not be able to do anything for your own children. The nurses really helped me through that time.”

Which got him thinking.

“I realized that I was able to get through this really rough time in my life thanks to the nurses who were constantly keeping me updated, who were teaching me how I could care for my kids who couldn’t help themselves,” Saint-Fleur recalls. “That inspired me to want to give back. Maybe somebody else in that same situation could benefit from my knowledge as a nurse, my being able to teach them and support them.”

He has balanced his responsibility to his now-healthy twins with the demands of his nursing education, including this fall’s participation in the P2H program at Moffitt Cancer Center.

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Gabrielle Savolidis works with her preceptor, registered nurse Adria Vincent, at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. [Photo: Kim Savage, Sarasota Memorial Health Care System]

Gabrielle Savolidis 

Savolidis, who says she has “a heart for helping others,” knew after her first year of teaching second grade that she needed to go in a different direction. It was during her second year of teaching that she started exploring other options, concluding that nursing would be more fulfilling. She began taking nursing prerequisite courses during her third and final year in the second-grade classroom.

“Teaching those little guys filled my heart and soul with so much goodness, but I knew it wasn’t a place for me personally, where I could take my career to the next level,” she says. “The options are more limited in education. In the field of nursing, and in the medical field in general, you have a lot of career paths that you could take. There’s just more flexibility within this field that simply doesn’t exist in a majority of careers. That was a big draw, in addition to the fact that I just really, really love to help people and I want to leave a legacy.”

Savolidis, who participated in the P2H program at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, envisions a career devoted to women’s health, particularly labor and delivery. She believes her background in education will be beneficial.

“It’s the ability to put things in layman’s terms, to make the patient feel more comfortable, to make them feel like they have control and an understanding of their care,” she says.