WCC grad: Returning student proves graduation possible


Can I do this?

The self-doubts of a wife and mother in her mid-forties seeped into my brain. Can I really "do" school again? I remember researching the possibilities as my two sons finished our home-school program and entered into their prospective colleges. I found information on becoming a surgery technologist, a physical therapist assistant and a medical assistant that intrigued me. I had become interested in the healthcare field in 2003 when I needed to have surgery at St. Joseph's Hospital in Bellingham. The nurses' care sparked my desire to serve people that were hurting or in need of care. It was pretty easy to narrow it down to the medical assisting program at Whatcom Community College. I wanted to have a hands-on approach to helping people in a clinical setting and Whatcom's academic excellence had been a successful part of my college career in the past.

Backing up a few years - I came to Bellingham in the fall of 1986 to attend Western Washington University and my plan was to attain a teaching degree. As plans tend to go - they change! Over the next few years, I moved back to my home town of Vancouver, Wash., and then back to Bellingham to work two jobs and attend Whatcom Community College. I finished with an Associate in Arts and Sciences degree in December of 1990. Along the way I met, and married, the love of my life and was pregnant with our first child as I graduated.

The next 20-plus years are a blur. Raising my two boys is a gift I will cherish my whole life. The special memories of sleepless nights, a messy house, coming up with something for dinner, unending laundry to fold, blanket forts, playing with LEGOs, snuggling, praying together, singing "Silly Songs with Larry" over and over, and the love that was given to me by the three guys I got to experience it all with is my life's treasure. My husband, Drake, and my two boys, Doug and Shane, are some of the best people you could ever hope to meet.

Now to June 7, 2012, 2:21 p.m. - I register for my first classes of my medical assisting degree at Whatcom. I start back to school that summer quarter.

Here we go ...

First quarter of classes - I did it! I can still do homework, and I actually enjoy it. (I don't remember it being that enjoyable when I was 20.) The quarters continue. I am attending classes in medical terminology, therapeutic communications, electronic medical records, procedural coding, anatomy and pathophysiology, clinical procedures, pharmacology and more. I am gaining knowledge on a wide variety of information concerning the healthcare field, from discussing the debate over human cloning in medical law and ethics to running an electrocardiograph in clinical procedures.

September 2013 - We have a new Health Professions Education Center building at WCC, and we are the first medical assisting cohort to use the building along with physical therapist assistant, massage practitioner and nursing students. It is so nice to have a special space for those pursuing a career in health care. Everything we need is all in one place.

June 2014 - It's my last quarter of classes. I am almost at the end of my journey at Whatcom. My husband has given me so much support through these past two years. He has cheered me on as he did dishes and folded laundry. My sons have graduated from their colleges and have started into their own careers. I think they've been secretly happy knowing that I've had to study and take exams. As I finish up classes, I'm preparing for commencement and for my practicum (internship) in pediatrics at PeaceHealth Medical Group. To say "I'm excited" doesn't quite cover it.

I have met some amazing people: my fellow students, my instructors and the support staff. These people have taken the time to be my friends and have held on tight with me as we experienced this wild ride called a college education!

We did it!


This article is one in a series of essays written by Whatcom Community College students who graduated June 20. Shannon Harkness graduated this month from Whatcom's medical assisting program. Whatcom offers more than 40 professional technical associate degrees, certificates, and short-term training opportunities, including nursing, physical therapist assistant, massage practitioner and medical assisting. Demonstrating the programs' excellence, WCC health professions graduates consistently far exceed national average pass rates on professional licensure exams. Graduating classes regularly achieve 100 percent pass rates. The 2014 graduates were the first to take classes and labs in Whatcom's state-of-the-art Health Professions Education Center.

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