Poised under pressure with a genuine love for people. That’s Tiffany Gardner in a nutshell. Currently balancing two demanding professional roles, Gardner is the Assistant Superintendent of Programs at Illinois Youth Center in Harrisburg and a Nurse Practitioner for Ferrell Hospital.
She has been at IYC for nearly 10 years and currently manages all of the programs that are available to the facility’s youth population, including education, substance abuse, health care, mental health, clinical service, reception and classification, bureau of identification, and leisure time activities.
On the nursing side of things, Gardner started in the profession in 2007. She has worked in nursing homes, medical surgical units, ambulatory care, and wound care services. In 2019, she was hired on as a PRN (as needed) Nurse Practitioner for Ferrell Hospital. “This has been a wonderful opportunity to develop my skills as a nurse practitioner and be able to do a career that I have a passion for,” she said.
Gardner, 37, was born in Aurora, and moved downstate with her family to Carrier Mills in her early teenage years. She graduated from Carrier Mills High School in 1999 and has been married for 10 years to her husband, Damion. The couple has three daughters: Heaven, Asia, and Nia.
She likes to think her local ties and educational background have something to do with her stable employment and career happiness. She completed her associate’s degree in human services and licensed practical nurse certification from Southeastern Illinois College before obtaining an associate’s degree in nursing from Rend Lake College. This was followed up with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Chamberlain University.
Gardner recently sat down with us to discuss her career goals and professional passions, as well as to share some advice for people who are currently unsatisfied with their jobs.
With the IYC and your nurse practitioner role, how are you able to handle the demands of two seemingly challenging careers?
With a lot of prayer and time management. First and foremost, I put my family first. IYC has been more than accommodating with my schedule for my children. My oldest daughter has Autism and I have been grateful to have a great caregiver that helps me with all my children. My husband is an over-the-road truck driver so most weeks, it me and my girls until he comes home. My schedule is very hectic and time management has become my friend.
What do you love most about your work in both roles?
At IYC, I love the people that I work with, even though I deal with some very interesting personalities. Working there has helped strengthen my ability to work in difficult circumstances and with people who may not necessarily agree with me or what the job entails. Working in corrections can be difficult. While it is not as physically demanding at times as other jobs, it can be mentally demanding.
As a nurse practitioner, I enjoy helping people return to wellness. I work in a walk-in clinic setting so most of the things that I see are acute. I just love to help people in general and look forward to both roles that I do daily.
Do you have any favorite stories from people you have either helped or interacted with that helped to validate the work you’re doing?
I have many stories from both jobs. From IYC — we have various volunteers that come in. At the time, one of the staff had contacted Cornerstone Church to see if they would donate items for Christmas bags for the youth. Not only did they donate items, they have become a partner in providing donations and programming for the youth. When I received a phone call from one of the head leaders of the volunteers that come into the facility and them thanking me for allowing them to come in to help with our youth. They are not only thankful they continue to donate time and items for the youth.
As a nurse practitioner — when I run into a patient’s family and they tell me how thankful they are that I took care of their family — that validates that I’m doing what I have been called to do in both roles. I don’t take any of these stories for granted and I’m thankful for every opportunity that I’m given.
Who has helped inspire you to be such a career-driven professional?
My faith and family. My parents always worked hard. I have a mother, stepfather (or bonus dad), and father. I have seen them all work hard when I was younger along with most of my immediate relatives such as aunts and uncles. My mother is my role model and what has really inspired me. She never allowed us to quit anything, she taught us to persevere without complaining, she taught us to be humble and thankful for all things, and her example of faith in God is what was instilled in me since a young child.
How important has your education been to your career?
Education has been an important part of my career. It has opened doors for opportunities that would never have been opened without it. My Aunt Berta quoted this to me years ago: “Education is something no one can take from you, once you earn your degree its yours so use it.” I have held that in my heart and mind ever since I started in school.
Some of our readers are simply not happy at work — do you have any advice for them to find career satisfaction?
Set goals to make a game plan to focus on where you want to be in your career that you are satisfied in. When I desired to make a change, I set a goal for what I wanted and made a game plan … You can do anything that you put your mind to, just don’t make any excuses. I also find that until you have learned what you need to learn in the current position or career that you are in, you will become stagnant.
Joe Szynkowski is a Sr. Director for NuVinAir Global, a Dallas-based company disrupting the automotive industry. Thanks to technology, he does so happily from his home east of Marion. Email Joe@TheUpWriteGroup.com for more guidance on work happiness.