When Kristen McCombs dons her cap and gown for Tidewater Community College’s Commencement Exercises, her five-year-old son, Lincoln, will be wearing a t-shirt that says, “My mommy did it!”
This May, Kristen, 28, is graduating with an Associate of Applied Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (DMS). She chose the career to help her family financially, and because she wants to be more available at home.
“There are many sacrifices that come with going back to school while working full-time and being a mom. I missed my son’s first field trip and a mommy-and-me tea party he was really excited about,” she said.
Kristen is one of twelve sonography students who are earning their associate degrees this May. Nine in the cohort have already landed jobs in the field, while the others are waiting for offers to be confirmed. All will be working in the field as soon as they pass the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography examination.
The health care field has always been attractive to Kristen. In fact, she started at TCC to study nursing soon after graduating from Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake.
“I was on track for the nursing program, but I could not pass one prerequisite class – Anatomy and Physiology. I tried two times and failed,” she said. “So I switched programs and became a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA).”
Kristen worked as a CNA in the home care setting for five years, before taking a position at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital as an administrative assistant in the operating rooms.
Today, Kristen’s compassion for others and her commitment to helping her community is a driving force for completing her degree.
When she came back to TCC, she got help from Kevin McCarthy, an academic advisor who was able to get Kristen special permission to take Anatomy and Physiology again. “I was ready this time and motivated. And I passed with an A,” she said.
Coming back to TCC for DMS meant more difficult prerequisite courses including physics.
“I met so many teachers who cared about my journey and wanted me to succeed,” Kristen said. “Mr. Fisher, my physics teacher, worked really hard to make the concepts understandable for me. He encouraged me and checked on me after class to be sure I was tracking with the information.”
But the thing that stands out the most to Kristen is the little pep talks from the DMS faculty that had a monumental impact on her success in the program.
“I can’t say enough good things about the faculty. In those moments of self-doubt, they were encouraging and believed in me,” Kristen said. She sends a special shout out to Indu Sharma, program coordinator and Yanna Christodoulias, clinical coordinator, for mentoring her through the program.
“You go into the program unsure of yourself and kind of reserved,” Kristen said. “But you come out the other side with classmates who are your best friends and faculty who feel like family.”
During the program, Kristen completed clinical hours in area hospitals including Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Sentara Care Plex and the maternal fetal medicine department at Eastern Virginia Medical School.
“Working under a sonography team lead and doing the work hands-on is an integral part of the training,” she said. “You get to experience different patients with real personalities. And you also see real pathology and learn how to manage when something unexpected shows up on your screen,” she said.
Kristen plans to work in a hospital setting doing general sonography work after graduation.
“I’m excited to be able to put Lincoln on the bus in the mornings, do work I’m excited about, and then be home with him after school. I’ll have to work some overnight shifts, but it’s worth the quality time with him,” she said.
Kristen’s husband, Ryan, and Lincoln will be cheering for Kristen when she walks across the stage at Chartway Arena on May 9. She and more than 1,300 other graduates are celebrating a job well done.
“I encourage students right out of high school to just start college. You may not know what you want to do, but your path will become clear,” she said. “And if you need to leave. You can always come back. It’s never too late to earn your degree.”