Amanda Parra dreamed of becoming a physician but figured it was an idea that was well beyond reach.
She was a married stepmom of two teenagers. She had no experience working in healthcare. And she suspected the education she’d need would be too expensive.
So Parra explored healthcare careers that seemed affordable and attainable, as well as professionally satisfying, and she enrolled in the radiography program at Fayetteville Technical Community College.
At FTCC, she earned an associate degree in radiography that helped her land a good job. She also gained the confidence to act on her dream of medical school.
Parra remembers the moment she started believing in her dream. She was chatting with Anita McKnight, the chair of FTCC’s radiography program.
“I said, ‘It popped into my head that I want to go to medical school,’” Parra recalled.
She waited for McKnight to look doubtful. Instead, the instructor smiled. “Yes,” she told Parra, “that’s possible.”
And Parra suddenly believed that it was.
“That was kind of the catalyst that helped me get to where I am now,” said Parra, who’s in her second year at Ross University School of Medicine. She hopes to specialize in emergency medicine. “That would dovetail with my X-ray experience,” she said.
Parra, who is 32, worked at various jobs in retail and banking early on but was bored by them. When her husband was reassigned to Fort Bragg, she decided she wanted to work in healthcare. “I was, ‘I want to do better,’” she said. “‘I want to help people.’”
She researched educational options and liked what she learned about FTCC’s health programs – “they had a good reputation, it was all accredited” – and the cost fit her budget.
Med school was not on her radar then. “I thought that was for rich kids and kids who are 24 or 25 whose parents can pay for stuff,” she said. “Not for me as a married stepmom.”
Parra loved FTCC’s radiography program. She said the faculty set high standards and demanded excellence but were also helpful and encouraging.
“They were just always so supportive,” she said. “They were always so warm and welcoming. It’s not the coddling kind of warmth. They’re always very honest.”
After graduating from FTCC in 2017, Parra worked full-time as a radiologic technologist at Moore Regional Hospital. At the same time, she also took a full load of classes at Campbell University. With full credit for her associate degree from FTCC, she earned her bachelor’s degree in health science in just over a year’s time. She then started applying to medical schools.
Parra started at Ross University School of Medicine in January of 2020 but had to take all of her first-year courses online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the school, which is located on the Caribbean island of Barbados, is open for face-to-face instruction. Parra flew there last month, but had to start her classes online while she waited out a required two-week quarantine.
Still, she was excited to be there – for the education, not the tropical paradise. Via a Zoom call, she said she expects to see some of Barbados in coming months. But she said most of her waking hours will be spent in class or studying.
“You have to set your standards,” she said. “Do I want to get Cs or do I want to get As?”
Parra wants As. She wants to become an excellent physician.
While at school, Parra is separated from her family. Her stepsons serve in the Navy now – a source of pride – so they’re no longer at home, needing her day-to-day attention. But her husband is still stationed at Fort Bragg and the couple miss each other. But, Parra said, the separation won’t be forever. “He’s been a huge supportive factor,” she said.
Meanwhile, throughout the years, she has remained in touch with McKnight and Michelle Walden, FTCC’s Dean of Health Technologies and she expects to continue to do so.
“I see them as my mentors and my friends,” Parra said. “I never in a million years would be here pursuing a medical career without them and all of the lovely professors and teachers at FTCC. I wouldn’t be here at all without FTCC.”