Phyllis Palser, left, and Nedra Napp, right, of the Moore County Hospital Auxiliary present a $500 scholarship to Amarillo College student Alejandra Ramirez.  Ramirez is studying to be a respiratory therapist.  Each year the Hospital Auxiliary presents up to two scholarships to local students preparing for careers in health care.

Retired Dumas Independent School District teachers and Moore County Hospital Auxiliary volunteers Phyllis Palser and Nedra Napp presented a $500 scholarship Wednesday to Dumas High School (DHS) graduate and Amarillo College (AC) student Alejandra Ramirez.  The money will go to help Ramirez complete her studies at Amarillo College this year and achieve her dream of becoming a respiratory therapist.

Palser said every year the Auxiliary awards $500 scholarships to two DHS graduates pursuing studies in a medical field at Amarillo College.  A number of scholarship recipients now work at the hospital or in physician clinics in Dumas.  Students seeking one of the scholarships must submit an application to the Auxiliary and have to be at least in their second year of their studies to be eligible.  A group from the Auxiliary judges applicants on their academic performance and goals, among other things.  "Hers were outstanding," said Palser of Ramirez.  Applicants also have to write an essay detailing what they want to accomplish with their medical training and why they chose health care as a field of study.  "We were particularly impressed by her essay," said Palser.  

Ramirez was no stranger to Palser and Napp.  Palser said students are encouraged to reapply every year, and this was the second year in a row for Ramirez to receive a scholarship.  Last year, she and Gay Ku Paw, who was in her final year of nurses' training, took home the money.  Both Palser and Napp said they thought Ramirez was a good choice for another scholarship, and their affection for her was evident Wednesday.

Ramirez finishes her studies in May.  In August she has one more hurdle to clear: a national exam she has to pass to become certified as a respiratory therapist.

In the mean time, Ramirez has begun her clinical work in the intensive care units (ICU) and emergency rooms (ER) of Northwest Texas Hospital and Baptist Saint Anthony's in Amarillo.  She works two twelve hour shifts a week in the hospitals in addition to continuing class work and case study work with physicians.  Some mornings she leaves her home in Dumas before 5:00 am and doesn't get home until after 7 or 8:00 pm.  She still has to study and somehow find time to eat and sleep before beginning the process again the next day.

If the training is grueling, Ramirez definitely believes it is worth the sacrifice to realize her dream.  She was moved to become a respiratory therapist by the experience of seeing the way respiratory therapists took care of a relative of hers whose cancer had spread to the lungs and who eventually had to be placed on a ventilator.  

When she decided to become a respiratory therapist she had no idea that her choice would eventually put her in the middle of the biggest medical story and possibly the biggest story period in living memory.  Respiratory therapists are at the front of the front line in caring for critically ill COVID patients, especially those on ventilators.  While Ramirez is limited in what duties she can perform at the two Amarillo hospitals, she has witnessed the way the pandemic has put the medical system under stress.  "It has been really, really busy.  I have gotten to do a lot and see a lot … it has been crazy.  It has been overwhelming," she said.  She said the ICUs at both hospitals have been full, and both hospitals rely on four bus loads of state-supplied nurses and respiratory therapists every shift to help the hard-pressed regular staffs care for the influx of extremely sick patients.  

Nothing she has seen or experienced has caused her to doubt her choice of career, however.  "I have been asked if this makes me scared to go into this field.  Really it has been the opposite.  It makes me love what I do even more."  She said she remains optimistic.  "It is nice to see what medicine can do … In health care we are there not for money not for anything but the people we are treating."

Ramirez summed up her attitude towards her career choice in her application essay:  "I love what I do and would not change it for anything, but it still has been very hard to see everything I have had to see in the past months.  Respiratory therapists have played such an important role in battling this pandemic.  I am very proud to be a part of that.  It is an amazing feeling to have people thank you for helping them and to see people get to be better and go home. … Health care is a beautiful thing, and I know it is what I am meant to do."

The Moore County Hospital Auxiliary is a group of volunteers who, among other things, man the gift shop at the hospital.  They also raise funds to purchase a variety of items for the hospital, in addition to paying for the scholarships.

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