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Sonography grad pictured a future and achieved it through TCC

By the time Jessica Francis decided to attend Tidewater Community College, she had worked as a copywriter, social media specialist and pastry chef.

They were jobs that lacked significant income and the internal rewards she desired. Francis carefully weighed her options before finding the whole package she wanted in TCC’s diagnostic medical sonography program (DMS).

“I’m leaving this program with twice the salary I came into it with,” said Francis, who will start her new career five days prior to walking in TCC’s graduation on May 13. “I will actually help real live human beings every day. I will get to contribute meaningfully by collaborating with doctors.

“If you are dedicated, this program is absolutely life changing.”

Francis, 31, will graduate with an Associate of Applied Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. While many correlate sonograms with expectant mothers, ultrasounds are an increasingly valuable diagnostic tool. It’s also a more interpretive and artistic field than most of the other health science professions.

“I will get to see people at the very best moment of their lives and the very worst,” she said. “That’s emotional and is a privilege no matter what end of the spectrum you’re on.”

While ultrasound does use high frequency sound waves to form an image of the fetus, it is also able to spot an aneurysm before it bursts or help a physician evaluate whether a patient’s cancer remains in remission.

“It’s a mobile modality that can be used in a variety of medical applications, and it can’t be outsourced,” Francis said.

Graduating from First Colonial High School in 2004, Francis wouldn’t have anticipated a career in the medical field. Instead she earned her bachelor’s in English from George Mason University.

“In fact, I spent most of my life trying to avoid math and science classes,” she said.

She credits TCC’s professors for helping her achieve high grades in completing the prerequisites she needed in those areas. She especially enjoyed Professor David Wright’s physics course and Professor Mym Fowler’s Anatomy & Physiology class.

Earning A’s in both led to her acceptance into TCC’s selective 67-credit diagnostic medical sonography program.

“Jessica is a very hard worker, diligent, well-liked by faculty and fellow students, very caring,” said Professor Indu Sharma, program head for DMS. “She had the personal drive and perseverance to meet the challenges of a new field that was totally out of her comfort zone when she first started.”

Sharma added, “She’s even an excellent baker,” noting Francis surprised faculty and classmates with scrumptious cakes for birthday celebrations.

Jessica Francis in her own words

Diagnostic medical sonography is a demanding program that requires students to complete clinical rotations at multiple clinical sites. TCC partners with all the major health systems in Hampton Roads, a benefit that Francis said cannot be overemphasized.

She’s known students from other sonography programs who drive in excess of 100 miles in search of a hospital willing to let them complete their clinical hours.

“TCC is so established here,” she said. “They’ve secured all the partnerships with clinical sites. In our field, that is huge.

“We are typically not allowed to take our boards to become registered until we have completed 1,200 hours of clinical time. Due to the high accreditation levels maintained by the program here at TCC, we are able to sit for our boards before we ever graduate.”

Job growth is excellent in the field as U.S. Department of Labor statistics project a 44 percent employment growth for sonographers between 2010 and 2020.

Francis completed rotations at Maryview Medical Center, Sentara Princess Anne Hospital, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters and Eastern Virginia Medical School.

“I’ve met sonographers who have been in the profession 25 years, right down to someone like me,” she said. “All of them come from TCC.”