Brian Ward’s journey toward a nursing degree has been all about changing the status quo.
When he graduated from high school in Marlboro County in 2002, Brian said he didn’t have much of a plan for his future. He hadn’t been a strong student and wasn’t very interested in academics.
“School wasn’t really my thing,” he said. “So when I got out, I didn’t go to college. I went and worked at a distribution center.”
Brian worked in logistics and distribution for 15 years. While his job allowed him to support himself and his family, he eventually realized that it wasn’t what he wanted to do forever.
“For me it wasn’t fulfilling,” Brian said. “It got kind of monotonous and repetitive.”
Then his mother developed health problems, and Brian began spending much of his free time caring for her.
“I always had an interest in the human body, nutrition and everything,” Brian said.
Caring for his mother sparked a renewed interest in health care as he considered making a career change.
“I was living with my mother, and she had a hip replacement and some cardiovascular problems,” said Brian. “One day I was speaking to my aunt, because she knew I was going through a rough time. She asked me, ‘You like your job, don’t you?’ and the first thing that came to my mind was ‘No.’ So she told me, ‘Well go back to school then.’”
One day, while visiting his mother in the hospital, Brian noticed that many of the other patients on the floor were middle-aged men receiving knee or hip replacements. For him, it was a sobering sight.
“At the time, I was working on concrete floors every day,” Brian said. “I knew if I didn’t make a change, that could be me.”
The combination of his aunt’s advice and witnessing his mother’s recovery inspired Brian to apply to Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC) to study nursing. Brian is now in his fourth semester of FDTC’s nursing program, and has never looked back.
“I love nursing,” he said. “I love the lectures, I love the instruction. I love it all. I love the clinicals, going and learning doing hands-on things. I like the challenge.”
FDTC’s rigorous nursing program is full of challenges. The fast-paced courses require students to retain a vast amount of information in a short period of time and to then apply that information in the field. Brian said that the time management skills he learned during his previous career have helped him successfully manage his coursework and that his family supports his efforts.
“My family is extremely proud and very encouraging,” he said. “My mom is my number one fan.”
Brian admits that balancing family life and school can be difficult. He often has to sacrifice some family time when he has to study, but said that his two young daughters, ages 8 and 9-years-old, recognize that he is pursuing something worthwhile.
“They understand the bigger picture,” he said. “And now one says she wants to be a doctor and the other wants to be a nurse.”
Brian is one of only a few men enrolled in the nursing program, which remains a largely female-dominated field. This inspires him to work extra hard to challenge some people’s perception that nursing is only a woman’s job.
“I feel like I have to prove myself, and sometimes break down some of the stigma associated with men in the field,” Brian said. “But I love working with the women. They’ve been very welcoming.”
While not completely sure what he wants to do after graduation, Brian is interested in going into psychiatric or mental health nursing. He hopes that he can help people who need it most, especially those who may be facing their own set of stigmas.
“I just see the need for it,” Brian said. “There’s still a huge stigma about depression, anxiety, drug addiction. But I’m looking into long-term goals, and researching different kinds of Nurse Practitioners. Psychiatric and Mental Health are some of the least chosen specialties among all Nurse Practitioners.”
Brian credits some of his interest in mental health to the rotation he completed at McLeod Mental Health in Darlington, South Carolina. Whichever kind of nursing he ends up practicing, he hopes to serve patients in the Pee Dee area.
“I would love to work in one of the hospitals [in the Pee Dee] because they’ve been so welcoming to us students,” he said.
Perhaps one of the most significant challenges Brian faces while earning his education is financial. Like many students, Brian often found himself wondering how to pay for school and life’s many other expenses. Fortunately, a friend told Brian about the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation Allied Health Scholarship Fund at the FDTC Educational Foundation, the 501 c 3 nonprofit that supports the college and its students through scholarship aid. Brian visited the Foundation office on the college’s main campus and learned that he qualified to apply for a scholarship from the fund.
Shortly after applying, Brian received a letter in the mail informing him that he had been awarded the scholarship.
“I felt wonderful,” Brian said. “I felt like somebody believed in me.”
The scholarship dollars helped Brian pay for textbooks and required nursing supply kits, which can cost several hundred dollars each. For a man working hard to change the status quo of his life and of the nursing profession, that simple hand up made all the difference.
“One little thing like having a scholarship could have changed my life entirely,” Brian said. “If someone didn’t have the money to afford books and then had to quit school, then they’d never meet their potential. It could impact someone’s life that drastically.”
Brian stressed the importance of supporting student scholarships through charitable donations to institutions like the FDTC Educational Foundation, saying, “It betters the local society. It empowers individuals to go and achieve their dreams and do something meaningful with their life. If someone is in a position to donate, that’s enough of a reason right there.”
For more information about how you can help students like Brian, visit www.fdtc.edu/donate, or contact Celeste Nunn at Celeste.Nunn@fdtc.edu or 843-661-8111.