Patrice Burgess

Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College

"At that point failure was no longer an option. I had to keep pushing."

I went through the medical assistant program at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College after high school and worked at a clinic in Orangeburg for seven years before moving to North Carolina. Joining the military allowed me to help put my sister through undergrad and have money set aside when she started going to grad school. The deal was when she finished grad school I was going to go back to school to pursue nursing, but I just kept putting it off. Eventually, she said, “You need to go back.” As I started looking at my options, I realized OCtech had an amazing nursing program, so I applied. I wanted to be in a smaller class. I wanted a more hands-on experience. I knew I would be able to jump into nursing quicker through a technical college, so it was a no-brainer to go back to the school that started my love for healthcare. This is my story of overcoming the fear of failure and proving to myself that I can do anything.

 

What was it like coming right out of high school into OCtech? 

When I graduated high school, I begged my mother to let me go into the military. Because I was only 17, she had to sign for me. The deal was that I could go into the reserves, but I also had to go to school.

For me, it was an easy transition from high school to a technical college because the class size wasn’t big. I felt like the instructors knew me on a more personal level. I needed that smaller, hands-on classroom experience. I needed the support of people who could help me become more confident in what I was doing. 

 

What have you overcome in your life? 

I was always the person that everybody depended on because I work, I’ve been in the military, I’ve been deployed. I was able to support my sister while she was in grad school and help out back home with my mom. 

I quit a great job where I was contracting in phlebotomy for a hospital. Suddenly I was back home trying to apply for student loans and Pell Grants, and they were looking at my former income and saying, “Sorry, we can’t offer anything.” I went from being completely independent and doing all the helping to being the person who needed the help. 

This forced me to turn to my amazing family and church. They literally said, “Whatever you need, tell us. We’ll get it for you.” For me, that was so hard. I was well over 30 and starting a new career. I was used to paying my own bills. I’d always been the oldest and taken care of everyone else, but suddenly found myself in the position of needing others to care for me. 

 

What fears did you have to overcome in order to go back to school? 

My biggest fear was that I was going to fail. “Can I really do this? Do I have the discipline? If I give up my job in North Carolina and move back home, what if I fail? How long will it take me to get back on my feet?” 

I planned for two years before I finally made the call to OCtech. I had to tell myself, “You got this. You can do this. Plan for it. Budget for it. If you start saving now, even if something does go sideways, at least you’ll have savings.”

I worried that everyone would be younger and more driven than I was. I worried about having to learn how to study again and whether I would be able to keep up. I gave up my contract. I gave up my apartment.  I gave up everything. At that point failure was no longer an option. I had to keep pushing.

 

What would you like to tell the world about technical education? 

These are the same courses as a four-year college, just with smaller class sizes. By starting in your own backyard, you’re actually putting yourself ahead and saving money while getting the same education. Technical colleges teach you how to study. They help you discover your learning style so you can be successful. 

OCtech gave me an amazing education. I spent half the money I would have at a four-year college. I have two years worth of working experience on the nurses coming out of a four-year college. 

Don’t discount technical colleges. They offer so many different opportunities, especially if you have no idea what you really want to do yet. Getting your core classes done will open up so many other possibilities.