SouthArk Secondary Technical
Center student Sara Tinsley.
Seventeen-year-old Sara Tinsley of Smackover, a Secondary Technical Center student at South Arkansas Community College, won a statewide nursing assisting competition—and therefore a full-tuition college scholarship—at last month's Health Occupation Student Association State Conference in Hot Springs.
But the Smackover High School senior is so unassuming that she had thought that she might have fared only well enough to place third.
"I'm one of those people who doesn't think very highly of myself when it comes to things like that," Tinsley said, smiling meekly.
So when the top finishers were announced in reverse order, when third place was revealed and Tinsley's name wasn't beside it, she had given up hope of placing at all.
And then she was announced as the winner.
"Based on what she was telling me, it sounded like she'd done well," STC health professions instructor Casey Wilson said. "The look of shock on her face when they showed first place was really neat."
The Secondary Technical Center at SouthArk is for high-school students to explore career paths as part of their usual school days. The STC is housed on the East Campus and offers classes like automotive service and cosmetology. Tinsley is in her second year of the health professions program.
She was elected by her classmates as the president of their local HOSA chapter this year.
"I met Sara the summer before she was in our program, and she was very enthusiastic," instructor Beverly Land said. "Sara has a very upbeat personality. If she's having a bad day, you usually don't know it."
In addition to being a full-time high-school student splitting time between the Secondary Technical Center and Smackover High, Tinsley also holds down a 25-hour-a-week job as a waitress at a local restaurant. But both Wilson and Land said that Tinsley really learned most of the material for the nursing assisting test on her own aside from class.
"She is a good student, and she studies hard," Wilson said.
She competed in the same event last year, but failed to place, so this time she spent time on YouTube watching exactly how to execute procedures that might be part of the examination.
It helped, Tinsley said.
Tinsley in the lab at SouthArk with
a dummy similar to the one used during Health Occupations Student
Association State Conference
testing, the results of which landed her a full-tuition scholarship.
The first part of the test was a 50-question written examination, given in the morning, and the eight students with the best scores moved on to a practical skills test in the afternoon. Question areas included making a patient's bed, infection control, reading vital signs and other basic topics dealt with by nursing assistants.
Tinsley, never one to make assumptions, did not feel after taking the test that she had qualified for the skills portion.
"I thought I missed a lot of the questions, honestly," she said, adding that while the questions were in a multiple-choice style, they were more challenging than the typical.
"All of them could be right, but you had to choose the best [response]," Tinsley said.
But after a lengthy wait while tests were scored, Tinsley discovered that she had indeed tested high enough to move on. All eight of the students who competed were transported to a rehabilitation facility and were given a specific task common to nursing assistants.
"I had to transport a patient who had a stroke into a wheelchair, and back into the bed," Tinsley said, although the "stroke" was imaginary, and the "patient" was a dummy the size of a full-grown man.
"I actually was kind of excited, because I had done that [before]," Tinsley said. "It was a lot harder, though, because [the dummy] wouldn't move with me—it was just laying there."
Not to mention that while the dummy was the size and weight of an average man, Tinsley is neither of those—making the test that much more of a challenge for the tiny teen.
"It was enough that [the judges] told me that if it was a real-life situation I would have someone helping me, because it would be too much," she said.
The hospital room where the testing took place was filled with pitfalls, Tinsley said.
"It was so cluttered that I looked around and wasn't sure where to put the wheelchair," she said, aware that everything was unfolding before the eyes of judges and their checklists. "There's all kinds of steps that you have to go through, or they knock off points."
Tinsley successfully completed the task within the allotted time frame and then went back to the conference to wait.
"I felt pretty good about it because [the judges] said 'You did a great job,' but then I figured they probably told that to everybody else too," she said.
But as it turned out, Tinsley really had done a good job—and the result was a medallion, an opportunity to compete at the national level in Nashville in June and, most significantly, a full-tuition scholarship.
She will use her scholarship to attend SouthArk as a college student beginning this fall, when she will enroll with the long-term goal of becoming a nurse.
Tinsley's win marks the first time that a student from SouthArk has placed first at the HOSA state competition in any testing category.

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