Committed to offering safe patient care in her hometown community

As the daughter of two immigrants living on the Maryland outskirts of Washington, D.C., Aminata Tholley was the first in her family to go to college. With her mom caring for family members and neighbors, it wasn’t a stretch for her to pursue a healthcare career.

 In the back of her mind, she always wanted to bring the best care back to her Prince George’s County community, where she now lives in Lanham, only blocks from her original home.

“Growing up in a socially and economically disadvantaged background is humbling, but also a reminder that I have to return to this Earth all that has been afforded to me – so others in similar situations can find the courage to be resilient and reach their maximum potential as well,” she wrote in an essay that earned her VCU’s Marjorie T. Goodwin Scholarship Fund in Nurse Anesthesia, which helps students from underserved populations.

“I did not grow up with much financial means, as my parents were also trying to find their way, provide for me and my siblings, and sacrifice their happiness to ensure we had the basics and could live the American dream.”

After earning her master’s degree in nursing, she spent almost five years working in the ICU at Prince George’s Hospital Center, a Level 2 Trauma Center that exposed her to many different kinds of cases. Tholley expected she’d follow a career as a critical-care nurse. “While I was there, I was just learning so much – and I always wanted to do more and learn more and see where it would take me.”

Where it took her was to VCU, where she’s in her second year of the DNAP, entry-to-practice program. “Even though I'm on a distant learning site, I feel like I'm still very much a part of the VCU community and just as if I was in Richmond,” says Tholley, who travels to her distant campus site every day for classes and to the main campus a couple of times a semester for specialty labs and workshops. “I feel like my professors really care about us and how we are doing as individuals. I appreciate that inclusion.”

The nurse anesthesia program introduced her to a diverse group of individuals, who share a like-minded passion for quality patient care. Outside the classroom, she has been recognized as a student mentor and represented VCU at the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Midyear Convention, held virtually in April due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The thing about nurse anesthesia is everything you learn, you will apply to your patient,” she says, stressing that there are no shortcuts in studying and mastering the material. As with the trauma cases she tended earlier in her career, nurse anesthesia cases bring many layers of complexity, and she rises to that challenge.

Through her rotation assignments, Tholley has certainly honed her skills in the operating room, but she also has refined how she interacts with patients who put their trust in her and the team.

“When I do my pre-op assessment, I'll take a chair and work to set their mind at ease,” she says. “I let them know I'll be there every step of the way with them. I'm watching them, monitoring them, making sure that they're safe and OK. I love that.”

 She imagines that every patient is a family member, which inspires her to make patient safety real.

“I’m making sure that I'm being the most prudent, careful and responsible provider to my patients,” says Tholley, who is married with a nearly 3-year-old son. “Taking the responsibility over someone's life is a great deal of trust that someone has put in me. I don’t take that lightly.”

After graduation, scheduled for December, she wants to practice in a hospital that serves her hometown, as well as find a clinical instruction role. Giving back is part of who she is.

“This is my neighborhood. This is where I grew up. It's important for me to be a role model,” she says. “You can achieve any dream that you want with hard work.”