COLUMBUS, Miss.-- Robbie Earnest isn’t sure what is going to trigger thoughts of his father, Adrian, because each patient he visits as a nurse for the North Mississippi Medical Center Home Health Agency is different. But the care Earnest provided as a teenager for his father motivates him to treat all of his patients like they’re family.

That mentality has served Earnest well on a path that has included plenty of twists and turns. Through it all, Earnest has used the lessons he learned caring for his late father as a guide to help him offer a personal touch in his assistance.

“Sometimes I see him in some of the patients I come across,” Earnest said of his father. “I always want to treat the patient as I would want to be treated if I was the patient. I think that compassion and ability to look at it that way, to me it feels like I provide the extra care that they need.”

On Monday, Earnest received the Community Nursing Award at the Mississippi University for Women’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences awards program at Nissan Auditorium. The award is given to an Advanced Placement Option (APO) student who most exemplifies community spirit.

“It was a surprise,” Earnest said. “I am very honored. There have been long nights, which I am still doing at times. All of the long hours working through my associate’s degree and working through the hospitals, things like this are like a pat on the back saying thank you for striving and for the good work and the long hours and time you have put in for it.”

Earnest, who is originally from Okolona, lives in Houlka with his wife, Amanda, and his children, Hunter and Molly, 11, who are twins, and Drake, who is 5.

Earnest’s father, Adrian, was a Type 2 diabetic with congestive heart failure. A knee injury from playing sports also limited Adrian Earnest’s mobility later in life and left him mostly bed ridden. Earnest made it through the ninth grade at Okolona High School before he had to leave school to help support his family, which included his mother, Margie, and his younger brother, Michael. At 15 years old, he went to work at Ed Edens Farms in Okolona and cared for his father and his mother, who now lives in Hatley. Earnest did that work for nearly two years and then went to work in a manufacturing job for a few more years to help make ends meet at home.

While he was working and caring for his family, Earnest started taking night classes at Houlka Attendance Center to get his GED, or General Education Development. The four subject area tests which, when passed, provide certification that the taker has high school-level academic skills.

Earnest’s “balancing act” continued after his father died and his younger brother was killed in a gun accident in 2000. He got engaged, he worked during the day, he cared for his family and he took classes at Itawamba Community College. From there, he passed his State Boards and then learned how to juggle having twins, working and going to school.

Earnest, who will be married for 16 years in May, said his wife studied nursing for a year before deciding to become a dental hygienist. Earnest said his wife helped him understand what he would have to do to become a nurse, and that experience and encouragement and the support he received from Dr. Donald Smith in Okolona and the nurses at his hometown clinic helped him decide to pursue a career in nursing.

Earnest said he didn’t look at the help he gave to his parents as work and that he came to realize he enjoyed providing that kind of care. He said it wasn’t until his wife encouraged him to follow his “dream” that he decided to embark on that path.

“She is the foundation,” Earnest said of his wife. “Without her, working full time, doing the RN to BSN, with three kids who are all in sports, she takes a lot of that off me so I get some time to further my degree in education. She’s been a real big part of my life for the last 20 years, and I am very thankful that she has been.”

Earnest said he is taking a few classes toward getting his master’s degree. He said he hopes to do more in the administrative side of the profession.

Dr. Donna Williams, an associate professor in The W’s RN to BSN Nursing program, taught Earnest in the Associate Degree Nursing program when he was becoming a registered nurse. She also teaches him in The W’s RN to BSN Advanced Placement program at the Tupelo campus. She said Earnest’s willingness to help others has helped him have success.

“Every teacher wants a student like Robbie Earnest,” Williams said. “He is kind, caring and sincere about reaching his goals and becoming a nurse in order to help others. He seeks to learn all that he can, which is awesome!”

Leslie Arnold, an instructor in The W’s Baccalaureate Nursing RN to BSN Program, taught Earnest this academic year and has worked with him for several years at NMMC. She said Earnest entered the RN to BSN Nursing program because he wanted a deeper understanding of nursing and wanted to learn more to make a difference for his patients. Like Williams, she said Earnest is a great student.

“He has outstanding work habits,” Arnold said. “He is very honest, kind and caring to all of his patients. He treats all of his patients like they are his own family. He is a team player.

“Robbie is receiving this award because he goes the extra mile for his patients. He takes excellent care of his patients. Robbie is unique in how he doesn’t let struggles in life stop him. He overcomes whatever is in his way and moves forward.”

Earnest, 37, will receive his bachelor’s of science degree in nursing in August. He said being a “task-oriented” person helps make his job easier. Earnest also said he quickly realized that it would be “nursing or nothing” and that his father would be “very, very honored” to see him caring for others like he did for him.

“He always said the only person who can tell you not to do something is yourself. He told me to believe in yourself no matter what anybody tells you. If you believe in yourself, you can do it. I can’t guarantee it is going to be easy, but he said most things worth doing are not going to be easy.”

April 15, 2019
Contact: Adam Minichino
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