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Kaylee Hillhouse on the job with crashcart

UM Student Pursues Passion in Critical Care Nursing

Kaylee Hillhouse completes degrees in allied health studies and nursing to follow her dreams

Photo: Kaylee Hillhouse of Pontotoc graduated last month with her Bachelor's of Science in Nursing through the accelerated one-year program offered by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Hillhouse completed a Bachelor's of Allied Health Science degree at Ole Miss after contemplating various medical professions and putting the puzzle together that led to a passion in critical care nursing. She begins her career as an ICU nurse this month at Baptist Hospital North Mississippi.

OXFORD, Miss. – Kaylee Hillhouse, of Pontotoc knew that she wanted her career to make a difference in the lives of others. She also really likes puzzles.

“I like working the steps and figuring out how each piece fits together,” Hillhouse said. “The feeling you get at the end when you know you’ve searched and tried each piece and finally find all of the connections, it’s the satisfaction that your work made something beautiful; that’s what I find so fulfilling.”

Hillhouse is also a fan of “True Crime” podcasts. She might be a bit of an investigator. It’s this inquisitive nature that drew her into the field of critical care nursing.

As a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and the University of Mississippi's Bachelor of Allied Health Studies, she is moving full-steam ahead in turning her passions into her life’s work.

She did, however, have to rework her own educational puzzle along the way.

Starting college as a pharmacy major, Hillhouse worked part time at a local pharmacy, but after working in the field decided it wasn’t what interested her most about medicine.

“I wanted more interaction with patients, and critical care nursing is one of the most attentive roles in the nursing profession,” Hillhouse said. “I want to help figure out what it’s going to take to stabilize the patient, get them weaned off of lifesaving machines and medication, and help them get closer to going home.”

The next fall, she learned that she could use many of the college credits she had earned before changing her major and apply them toward the Bachelor of Allied Health Studies program at Ole Miss. This degree pathway would allow her to complete classes and apply to a one-year accelerated BSN program, without adding additional time to her college journey.

In 2021, Hillhouse completed her bachelor’s degree in just three years through coursework taken at Itawamba Community College and UM, and in summer 2021, she began her BSN courses and clinical rotations.

“Finding this pathway to earn my bachelor’s degree was a great way for me to get my pre-reqs for the nursing program, and it was especially helpful that after changing my major, my classes still counted toward the degree,” Hillhouse said.

As an intern this year at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi in Oxford, Hillhouse was offered a full-time nursing position in the Intensive Care Unit before graduating this summer with her BSN. She just completed her nursing board certification exams and will begin working full-time as an ICU nurse in September.

“Everyone has said that their first year in ICU is nerve-racking, but there is a lot of support,” she said. “I think I’m most excited to work closely monitoring and advocating for my patients and working as a team with the fellow ICU nurses.”

For one of the final pieces of her educational puzzle, Hillhouse hopes to continue her education to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist after completing the required two years of experience in critical care.

“I think one of the most important things I have learned is to stay on top of my skills and remain compassionate for your patients, regardless of who you are taking care of," she said. "I hope to be able to hold onto that throughout the years of my career.”

Sovent Taylor, director of the Ole Miss Health Professions Advising Office, said that the need for qualified health professionals in Mississippi is one of the primary reasons the allied health academic program was created.

“This degree helps students map out their future career as a healthcare professional, and it prepares them with coaching, assistance and a well-rounded curriculum that sets them up for success in the next steps of their career," he said.

“The program provides the information, classes and everything they need to be competitive in their chosen medical field.”

The allied health studies degree program offered at Ole Miss campuses in Booneville, Grenada, Oxford, Southaven and Tupelo is a new pathway to prepare students pursuing a career in a variety of health professional fields such as nursing, dental hygiene, occupational and physical therapy, health information, medical lab sciences and radiology. It also can provide the background and coursework needed to apply to medical school.

“I really liked that I was able to choose from a wide variety of classes to make up this degree,” Hillhouse said.

Students can enroll in or transfer in academic credit in a wide variety of core courses and from there complete 30-36 hours of major course requirements such as medical terminology, biomedical ethics or the sociology of disability, to name a few.