When the David and Jo Ann Shaw Center for Simulation Training and Education for Patient Safety was ‘just an idea and a blueprint,’ Tonya Gillum was one half of a two-person team preparing to introduce simulation education to students enrolled in West Virginia University Health Sciences academic programs. Now, 15 years later, she serves as the Center’s office administrator and works with 19 colleagues and many more faculty educators, helping to provide nearly 30,000 educational encounters for students each year.
Tonya, a Morgantown native, developed an interest in the medical profession as a teenager while supporting home health nurses and other medical personnel as they cared for her great-grandmother. She began her career at WVU Medicine as a perioperative care associate in the operating room and later transitioned to administrative responsibilities including coding and billing, patient referrals, medication authorization and more.
In 2008, Tonya started a new role providing administrative support to the director and medical director of a yet-to-be-built simulation center on the Health Sciences Campus.
“The simulation center was a new division within the Health Sciences Center without a designated space,” she explained. “We had no name, just an idea and a blueprint. I felt this job would be challenging and interesting in many ways.”
The interdisciplinary planning group landed on a name, STEPS, which stands for Simulation Training and Education for Patient Safety, and the facility opened in October 2009 occupying 4,500 square feet and offering just a few manikins. By 2015, the space was expanded to nearly 20,000 square feet thanks to the generosity of David and Dr. Jo Ann Goldbaugh Shaw, alumni of the Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine. The expansion consisted of a new reception area, a dedicated room for maternal-infant simulation, two clinical skills practice labs, a computer lab, 12 exam rooms and a standardized patient changing and staging area, as well as additional offices and needed storage space. Most recently, the Center added an operating room that is designed and equipped to simulate an actual operating room that would be used by WVU Medicine surgeons.
In her current role, Tonya supports daily operations as well as budgetary and financial coordination, and she works as a member of the leadership team and philanthropy committee to plan current activities and future expansion.
“My favorite part about my job is watching the students grow over the years and see them succeed after graduation,” she said. “I feel that simulation is important for all students, as this is the place for hands-on experiences without fear of failure. It is a safe place to learn, make mistakes and improve self-confidence and skills.”
As a member of a student-centric team, Tonya works with individuals from across the campus, the state and beyond to provide an innovative learning experience for those interested in a healthcare career.
“Our staff is exceptional and dedicated to seeing students succeed,” she said. “STEPS is available for all Health Sciences disciplines as well as others that have an interest in simulation. Our team has a willingness to beta test systems and equipment, and some of our vendors have brought people from other areas to see how we use their products in our multidisciplinary approach to education.”
From caring for a loved one at home to working in the operating room to advancing a state-of-the-art simulation center at WVU, Tonya’s journey in healthcare has taken many forms. Her years of experience enabled her to earn a Regents Bachelor of Arts degree at WVU in 2023. As future students begin their journey, she suggests they explore their options.
“The healthcare profession consists of a variety of opportunities to help others, and having compassion, patience and dedication are valuable,” she said. “I recommend shadowing different interests to see firsthand what really fits you prior to choosing your career path. Do not be afraid to ask questions at STEPS. We are here to help with your learning experience.”
CONTACT: Jessica Wilmoth
Senior Communications Specialist
University Relations – Health Sciences