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franklin county times

THS’ Gary Gunderman pursues professional variety

Having a side hustle is a common employment scenario these days. It could even be said that the common arrangement of having a secondary part-time job is in vogue in this era. For many people, it means supplementing their traditional 9-to-5 with a less-conventional income source, like selling soap on Etsy or baking up cakes and cookies by the dozens. Other common side hustles might be tutoring, baby-sitting, teaching piano or even freelance writing.

But for Gary Gunderman, his alternate professional interest is a little more unexpected.

In contrast with his day job as a science teacher at Tharptown High School, Gunderman uses his holidays and summer break to enjoy a second job that, for many, would never spring to mind as a potential part-time passion project: as surgery nurse at Helen Keller Hospital.

Gunderman had begun his teaching career in Russellville and was educating young minds at Florence Middle School when a friend proposed the idea of becoming a nurse anesthetist. With his science background firmly in place, Gunderman only needed a few additional classes to complete the CRNA program at UNA – until it became a higher degree program that was going to require more courses than he wanted to commit to.

So instead of a full nurse anesthetist, Gunderman used his experience and education to pursue a surgery RN position at Helen Keller, with the help of John Murphy.

That was ten years ago – but nine of those years have been as a part-time nurse, full-time teacher.

Gunderman worked one year full time in surgery, but in 2007 when a Tharptown science teacher transferred to Red Bay, he became a science teacher at THS – and stayed in his nursing career part time, working on school holidays and during summer vacations.

“When they see me come through surgery, they start thinking, ‘What holiday is it? – because Gary’s here,’” Gunderman said.

“I think I’m up there just enough where they don’t get tired of me,” he joked.

Gunderman provides service as a circulator during surgical procedures, helping position patients, assisting the anesthesiologist, retrieving needed supplies and completing other tasks as needed.

“It’s a whole different atmosphere from teaching. It’s quiet,” he quipped. “I’ve built good relationships with the doctors there. Several of my friends and family have had surgeries, and it’s nice to know who is taking care of them.”

Michael Hill, director of surgical services at Keller, said the hospital is “blessed to have Gary Gunderman on our team at Helen Keller.”

“Gary comes to work with a smile on his face, always strives to provides excellent patient care, always (is) willing to help his co-workers and even volunteers to work overtime,” Hill said. “Gary is recognized by his positive attitude and good work ethic. By honoring others before himself, Gary sets a great example of what all of our surgical nurses do on a daily basis here at Helen Keller Hospital – we put our patients first.”

Two careers means two paths for continuing education and maintaining certifications. Gunderman said he is required to complete 24 hours of continuing education units in nursing every two years, on top of 150 hours in five progressive learning units (30 hours per unit) in education every five years.

But having two professions doesn’t overwhelm him.

“Getting a nursing degree was the best thing I ever did, career-wise,” he said.

As he nears his 25th year in the school system, Gunderman said he wants to continue in the school system until he retires and then maybe work in surgery even more often and regularly.

“I joke with my kids that with the teaching and nursing career, I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up,” Gunderman said. “I really have great co-workers at both places, at Tharptown and at Keller.”

Gunderman also puts his medical knowledge to use in the school system, where he assists the school nurse and helps with coverage during football games for the North Alabama Bone and Joint Clinic – an interesting link between his medical and teaching positions. Gunderman taught Dr. Aaron Joiner’s son Aaron when the latter was in 7th grade at Florence. The younger Aaron then went on to play football at Alabama.

“I want to give credit to my parents for helping me through the nursing part of school,” he said. “They helped with our bills when we dropped down to one income for a time.”

Gunderman graduated high school at Russellville and earned his teaching and administrative degrees, in addition to his nursing degree, from the University of North Alabama. He is married to Amy Gunderman, and they have three daughters: Leah, a student at Northwest-Shoals Community College; Anna Beth, an 11th grader at PCHS; and Lara, a 5th grader.

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