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‘He’s got the ability to do it all and do it well’
Former firefighter, current nursing student elected to position in state nursing group
Shannon Williams
Shannon Williams, above, a 43-year-old nursing student at the University of North Georgia, was recently elected to a state position in the Georgia Association of Nursing Students. - photo by For the FCN

For more than 20 years, Shannon Williams fought fires in Forsyth, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. He responded to car accidents; he’s still one of the first to arrive to an emergency medical call.

Now, though, the 43-year-old Forsyth County resident adds one more stop to his usually busy day: the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.

Williams, a full-time nursing student at the school, was also recently elected as the chairman of the Council of School Presidents (COSP) for the Georgia Association of Nursing Students (GANS). 

A junior, he is the first UNG student to be elected to the state organization, though he said he didn’t want the position at first.

“I was not one of the students who wanted to run for this position,” Williams said. “I was nomi-nated, and I did not accept the nomination.”

In part, that was because the position demands more time from the already-busy man, who, in addition to being a full-time student, still works part-time as a paramedic for Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Williams also knew it would take away from time with his wife and the two exchange daughters from Brazil who the couple regularly keep in contact with.

But his wife, along with his professors, encouraged Williams to accept the nomination and now, in addition to saving lives, participating in class and doing homework, he will plan and run COSP biannual meetings, manage its Facebook page and email groups, communicate between National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) Presidents and the GANS Executive Board, attend monthly membership committee meetings and consult with other GANS presidents.

UNG Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program Coordinator Patti Simmons said if anyone can take on all that Williams is now juggling, he’s the one for the job.

Shannon Williams
Williams, left, stands with his Gwinnett Fire Department colleagues. He has spent more than 20 years in the fire service. - photo by For the FCN
“To take on this extra task is a lot, and I’m sure he hesitated but he is a leader and showed that leadership ability as soon as he started in our program,” she said. “He’s a very likable person so that helps with his leadership skills and people look up to him. He’s got the ability to do it all, and do it well.”

The position is somewhat of a natural extension of why Williams decided to become a nursing student in the first place, too, he said.

“I spent 20-plus years in the fire service and have been a paramedic for 18,” he said. “I always enjoyed both sides of the career but I enjoyed the medical side much more because it’s much more of a mental challenge and you’re always learning new things and training with new [medi-cal advancements.] Everything is always changing on the medical side and while some things change on the fire side, it’s not as not as drastic and not as often, and being a paramedic always kept me mentally aware and sharp and more in tune with patients.”

Those patients are what drove Williams to attend UNG.

“The fire service is a tough career that is a young man’s game and I’m not a young man any-more,” he said. “I truly enjoy the medical side, but as a paramedic, you don’t get to spend a lot of time with your patients, so you never have that true closure. 

Added Williams: “You don’t know if they even survived and you want to know that, so this gives me an opportunity to stay with my patients and treat them for longer, rather than that 20-30 minutes you do when you arrive [on scene] as a paramedic. I also want a better understanding of my patient’s outcomes — not only in regards to their treatment but in their lives as well.”

Still, Williams said the draw to emergency medicine is always going to be part of him.

“When I become a nurse, I don’t plan on giving up my paramedic number,” he said. “Those are skills that took me many, many years to become good at and I don’t want to lose them because they will help make me better nurse and nursing will help me be a better paramedic.”

Simmons said the dual pathways are, in part, what makes Williams a great student.

“He’s just a real nice person — a very caring person who will make a great nurse and a great leader even after finishes with our program,” she said.

Williams is on a generalized nursing track at UNG but said he will specialize in ER or ICU medi-cine because it’s what he’s familiar and comfortable with professionally.

It’s also what keeps him on his toes, he said.

“Emergency medicine is always evolving. No two treatments or patients are ever the same,” he said. “Everything is always changing, but I like that challenge.”