Sarah Dillard, RN, BSN, MSN - Practical Nursing Educator, Withlacoochee Technical College
Sarah Dillard became a nurse by accident and realized she had found her niche. Now, as a practical nursing educator at Withlacoochee Technical College (WTC), she is creating better lives, both for her students and the patients for whom they will care.
Dillard had always wanted to be a teacher but “life takes that turn,” she said. She spent years in the local business world, managing convenience stores. Then, in 1994, a friend made a suggestion.
“I had never thought about healthcare, but my friend said, ‘why don’t we become home health aides? The money is good,’” said Dillard. “I took the class and loved it. Then I wanted more and more education so I could help my patients.”
After becoming a certified nursing assistant, Dillard worked in that role and as unit secretary at Seven Rivers Hospital. In 1999, she earned her LPN certification at WTC and, in 2003, her RN degree from the College of Central Florida. Her LPN instructor opened her eyes to her teaching potential.
“When I finished the LPN course, the instructor sat with me and asked what my goals were,” Dillard said. “I told her I’d really like to help people know this stuff. It was going back to my childhood desire to be a teacher. She said, ‘get your RN, and come back here and teach with me.’”
Soon after Dillard earned her RN, WTC started a night LPN program. Her former instructor contacted her and asked if she’d like to teach it. Dillard was still working at Seven Rivers but agreed to teach the part-time night courses. In 2005, a full-time position opened at WTC. Dillard left Seven Rivers and became a full-time teacher.
The 10-month LPN program teaches students everything from the basics of patient care and understanding the LPN’s role, to pharmacology and diseases. The large classroom includes a lab set up as a hospital unit. Half of the students’ time is spent in “clinicals,” taking theory and putting it into guided practice at hospitals, hospices, the Citrus County Health Department, assisted living facilities, and the school district.
“It gives them hands-on, supervised experience and the ability to see where LPN’s work,” said Dillard.
“Sarah is an outstanding health educator,” said her nominator. “Her curriculum is rigorous and relevant, and her style and technique foster the highest achievement in her students. She sets high standards and has worked hard to research curriculum and equipment and to make the college’s simulation lab as realistic as possible.
“Modern medicine is more technologically advanced than ever before, and Sarah works to expose students to as much technology as practical. She establishes and maintains relationships with other nursing education professionals across the state to stay abreast of developments. Her work over the years in the department has deeply contributed to the excellent, well-deserved reputation that WTC nursing grads enjoy.”
“Nursing and teaching give me a sense of giving back,” said Dillard. “My other life was all about numbers and profits, but even as a child, I wanted to help others. That was missing in my life.
“I get so much satisfaction in seeing students be able to understand and apply a concept and walk away with a sense of self-satisfaction and pride in what they are doing,” she added. “When I see that everything is clear to them, I feel like I’ve met my goal as a teacher.”
Dillard moved to Citrus County with her family from Pinellas County when she was 11 years old. She graduated from Crystal River High School. She and her husband, Patrick, live in Homosassa.
Continuing her own dedication to education, Dillard recently completed her master’s degree in nursing. She is a member of the Association of Practical Nurse Educators in Florida and meets regularly with colleagues from around the state to discuss and effect positive change in nursing education.
“I do this because of the students; I love helping them to become nurses who will help our community,” said Dillard.