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Grad finds purpose in the health professions

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.

Kristen McCombs in the DMS lab.
Kristen practicing with Nicole Fleming, a classmate in the Diagnostic Medical Sonography lab.

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.”

Respiratory therapy student lands full-time position with generous signing bonus

Paulette Chevalier spent two decades in the insurance business before pursuing a medical career as a respiratory therapist.

“I wanted to get out of the cubicle and into patient care. I felt like this was my higher calling,” Chevalier said.

Chevalier started with an anatomy and physiology class at Tidewater Community College and is now close to completing an associate degree in Respiratory Therapy. She says the college had an array of resources that made it easy to succeed. “As a seasoned student, I appreciated the library staff, tutoring and the support of my professors,” she said.

Chevalier was recently offered a full-time position at Riverside Hospital with a $20,000 signing bonus. Once she earns her associate degree in May 2022, she will be working in a field she loves. “I walked away from a great career because I knew this was my passion,” she said.

Chevalier at the Regional Health Professions Center.

Chevalier began taking classes before the pandemic and had to adjust to learning online. She is grateful to be back in the high-simulation lab for hands-on training. “Being able to put my hands on the equipment and work with simulated patients has been so beneficial. It’s been the key to learning lifesaving treatments.”

The Respiratory Therapy program includes clinical rotations in area hospitals interspersed with classroom and lab work. “We do a lot of critical thinking in class, and seeing the work done in the field really helps solidify the concepts,” she said.

Chevalier is working on her required clinical rotation hours at Lake Taylor hospital and has also done clinicals at Sentara, Bon Secours and Riverside hospitals.

Chevalier says that she chose TCC because her husband, Akil Chevalier, is an alum of the college. He earned an information technology associate degree before moving on for bachelor’s and master’s degrees in IT.

“I really never considered going anywhere else. I knew TCC was affordable and I’d get a quality education,” the mom of two added.

She continued by adding, “I can’t say enough good things about respiratory therapy as a career. We’re trained to make independent decisions about patient care while working as part of the critical care team. If you are looking to provide patient care, but want to master a speciality, respiratory therapy is the way to go.”

To learn more about the Respiratory Therapy program, prospective students are invited to Open House, which is held on the third Thursday of each month (except December) at 3 p.m. in the Regional Health Professions building on the Virginia Beach Campus. Email Program Director Denise Bieszczad at for more information.

Governor tours Regional Health Professions Center to tout G3 initiative

On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam observed Tidewater Community College respiratory therapy student Taylor Moneypenny inflate a pig lung, which has an anatomical structure similar to that of a human. In an ambulance bay, Northam listened to a bleeding man writhing in pain while emergency medical service students tended to his injuries. He watched diagnostic medical sonography students complete sonograms on their peers using state-of-the-art equipment.

President Conston and Gov. Northam

His hour-long tour of TCC’s Regional Health Professions Center on the Virginia Beach Campus provided an up-close glimpse of students preparing for careers in health care, one of five in-demand areas included in an initiative in his proposed budget before the General Assembly. The “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” initiative, dubbed G3, proposes a free community college education in incentivized areas for students who meet certain income requirements.

The other fields are skilled trades, information technology, early childhood education and public safety, but health care is the primary focus.

“Health-care systems are craving for your talent,” Gov. Northam told students afterward during informal remarks before TCC President Marcia Conston; Megan Healy, chief workforce development advisor in the governor’s office; and representatives from Sentara Health and Bon Secours, two of the college’s regional partners. “There’s not enough people to fill these much-needed jobs. What we’re trying to do at the state level is to really open up what I call that classroom-to-career pipeline and train individuals for these 21st-century jobs.”

Because of the governor’s background in health care – he worked as a pediatric neurologist prior to being elected in 2017 – he was able to appreciate the hands-on learning inside the 6,500-square-foot Regional Health Professions Center. “I almost want to get in here and get my hands dirty,” he quipped. He was particularly awestruck by the scene in the ambulance bay, as authentic-looking “blood” leaked from a surgical cut suit.

But mainly Northam wanted to stress his commitment to what’s been called a gamechanger. G3 would boost funding to Virginia’s Community Colleges by $145 million over the next two budget years and enable an estimated 39,000 low- and moderate-income Virginians to enroll without cost in the targeted programs.

“We are excited about G3,” President Conston told the governor, pumping her fist. “We are poised to get students trained so they can be competitive in the workforce.”

Gov. Northam with Taylor Moneypenny

TCC offers associate and certificate programs in all of the targeted areas.

G3 eligibility would be established by students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). G3 funds would make up the difference between what financial aid pays for and the cost of tuition, fees, and books for the program.

In response to a student question, Gov. Northam stressed the importance of wraparound services, noting academics are typically not the reason students drop out of community college. “It’s because of affordability,” he said.

Healy said students who attend college full time under the G3 program and are awarded a full Pell Grant would receive an additional $1,000 grant per semester in support of expenses that include food and childcare.

“We want to make sure that all Virginians have access to attending a community college without incurring a lot of extra debt,” Gov. Northam said. “That’s the G3 program and that’s why we’re here today.”

Become a paramedic in months, not years, thanks to two TCC programs

If you’re already a certified emergency medical services provider and you’d like to advance to paramedic, Tidewater Community College can get you there quickly beginning in March.

Students who have achieved Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) – Intermediate certification can bridge to paramedic in just 20 weeks by completing TCC’s “Intermediate to Paramedic Boot Camp.”

Classes meet twice weekly at the Regional Health Professions Center on the Virginia Beach Campus with flip/flop options available to accommodate shift schedules.

To be accepted into the program, applicants must be Virginia-certified Intermediates and pass the entry capstone exam. A mandatory two-week review course in preparation for this exam comprises the first two weeks of boot camp. EMT-Intermediates certified within the last year do not need to complete the capstone exam.

Classes for boot camp begin March 20/21 and conclude Aug. 4/5.

“The boot camp program is our newest addition,” said Jason Ambrose, head of the EMT program at TCC. “This program was designed for the practicing Intermediate looking to bridge up quickly while still working.”

Current EMTs can also advance their careers via TCC’s Accelerated Paramedic program. Classes meet nearly every weekday for five months starting March 5.

“The Accelerated Paramedic program is ideal for those with some existing medical knowledge, such as independent duty corpsmen, looking to transition to a new career in the EMS or fire industries,” Ambrose said.

Four rounds of clinical rotations are part of both programs.

TCC will offer the national exam in the Regional Health Professions Center on Aug. 10.

Students can stack all their credits toward TCC’s Associate of Applied Science in Emergency Medical Services.

TCC offers the largest program in emergency medical services in the state. All of the college’s EMS programs are nationally accredited.

The Virginia Department of Health funds EMS scholarships that can cover 100 percent of the cost for qualified applicants. For information, visit

For information about EMS programs at TCC, call 757-822-7335.