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Woman Doesn’t Give Up Goal of Earning College Degree

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Life presents each of us with challenges and setbacks, and it’s up to each of us to decide how to react. Meagan Puckett chose not to give up.

Her story of earning a degree in the Medical Office Administration (MOA) program at Surry Community College is one of resilience. She began taking classes in the MOA program at 17 years old and then completed it almost two decades later at 36.

“Meagan is the definition of perseverance. She knew what she wanted, and she did not give up on her goal,” said Mitzi Poore, SCC Lead Instructor for MOA/Office Administration.

Meagan didn’t go the traditional public high school path. She left North Surry High School after her sophomore year.

“My parents pulled me out of school because I had started getting in trouble and was heading down the wrong path. My parents decided to homeschool me,” Meagan said. “I began homeschooling in 2001, and it lasted for about three months before my mom and I realized it wasn’t working for us. At that point, I decided to go to Surry Community College for the GED instead of going back to North Surry. I went and took the pretest, and that allowed me to skip the classes. Now I just had to wait for the test.”

However, the North Carolina legislature had just passed a law that students had to attend school or progress towards graduation to maintain a driver’s license or learner’s permit if they were under the age of 18.

“So, I had to attend class three hours a day until the next test was available. For three months, I went and studied my allotted hours and then took the test in April 2002. I actually passed with honors – something I didn’t know you could do with a GED.”

After passing the GED test and earning a High School Equivalency diploma, Meagan began Medical Office Administration classes at SCC in 2002. She wasn’t sure if it was the right program for her as she was torn between wanting to become a nurse or work in a medical office setting.

“I had a strong desire to help people through my job,” she said.

Her mother, Jill Puckett, was an inspiration for Meagan’s aspiration to work in the medical field. Jill worked for Novant Health for 31 years and retired as a director. Meagan remembers going to graduation at Surry Community College when her mother completed the bridge program as a Licensed Practical Nurse to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (LPN-ADN) to become a registered nurse. Meagan was around five or six years old at the time. Her mother later earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and then a master's degree in Healthcare Administration. Jill currently works in administration at Northern Regional.

“My mom supported me in getting my first job at Novant when I was 17,” Meagan said. “I started as a financial counselor/patient access specialist in the emergency room at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston. I was there for almost two years before transferring to the cardiac floor as a unit secretary where I worked for two years before leaving Novant to pursue other possibilities. I came back to Novant Health in 2013 as a central scheduling specialist at Novant Health Imaging Maplewood for a year and a half, and then I transitioned to a patient service coordinator at Novant Health Surry Medical Associates, Mount Airy. I was with Surry Medical for seven years.”

During her 20s and early 30s, Meagan started and stopped going to Surry Community College four or five times, she said. She is a survivor of domestic violence and is a single mom of three children, one with health issues. Meagan lives in Mount Airy with her three children, a daughter Natalie, 14, and son Bentley, 11 and son Kyrie, 4.

“Life in general kept me from finishing my degree when I was younger. It would become too stressful, so I would have to withdraw from classes. I went through a horrible relationship with domestic violence. I was also a single mom, and something would always come up with the kids. Natalie was diagnosed at nine months old with a genetic condition – Neurofibromatosis,” Meagan said. “We were back and forth from Baptist and then Chapel Hill every two to three months in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices. My daughter had to get MRIs every three months.”

Natalie has tumors on her optic nerves, and Meagan feared her daughter would face chemotherapy treatments, but the healthcare team determined that chemo wasn’t necessary.

“I was trying to hold it together for my daughter. I remember waiting on the phone call that week, and at 8 p.m., I got the call from the medical team, and they said there was not enough growth for chemo since there were no changes in her vision. If the tumors start growing back, we will be in that same boat. She is not in the clear just yet, but the doctors explained that once she is a teenager and hits her growth spurt, then she should be ok if there is no growth of the tumors or any changes in her vision. We have to monitor her headaches and vision and be on alert for possible seizures. She’s a straight A student at 14 years old and plays volleyball. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we went through all that.”

In December 2020, Meagan came back to Surry Community College to finish what she started years ago – an Associate in Applied Science degree in the Medical Office Administration program.

“I told my mom that I was registering for classes, and she was worried about me because this wasn’t just the first or second time that I had tried to finish my degree. Mom said, ‘you have so much going on,’ but she was very supportive of me. She was just worried about me becoming overwhelmed, but she told me, ‘I support you and want you to finish.’ She knew I felt like a failure because I had started and stopped so many times.” Meagan said. “I told my mom that I have to finish. I have to prove to my kids that no matter what life throws at you that you can achieve anything you want. Something told me that I was ready. I was bound and determined that I was going to finish.”

Meagan took all her required classes online.

“I loved the online aspect. I could make my schedule out and have some flexibility with my classes. I could work through the week at my own pace as long as I was meeting deadlines. It was a wonderful opportunity as a working mom. The Medical Office Administration degree being online was a lifesaver. I was working full-time, with three kids, while I was going back to school.”

In order to graduate in 2022, Meagan took five classes that spring.

“I was afraid I would quit again. There were many late nights and lots of prayers,” she said.

Meagan graduated in May 2022, and a couple weeks before she walked across the stage at commencement, she had landed a promotion. She is now a managed care specialist at Novant Health and works from home.

“Getting my degree helped me get a new job. It has expanded my knowledge. I have been working for Novant for so long, and I had a ton of knowledge and insight to know this is what I truly want to do,” Meagan said. “Finishing this degree solidified that this is what I need to be, and it has opened doors for me.”

Meagan continued, “It felt so good to get my degree, but I had a ton of anxiety. I wasn’t going to walk in graduation, but Mrs. Poore talked me into walking. I remember dropping my kids off with my parents the morning of graduation because I had to be on campus early. I broke down in my mom’s house. I told her, I am 36 and just now walking across that stage. I had feelings of embarrassment. I am my hardest critic.”

Meagan’s mom, Jill, and her dad, Mark, were her biggest supporters in completing her degree. Her dad helped a lot with her children as he was retired. Meagan said their support meant the world to her and contributed to her success.

“Commencement was hard for me. It was a pride thing for me. I was so mad at myself for not finishing all those times, but I told myself I did finish regardless of the times I quit.”

At Surry Community College’s graduation, Meagan saw the faces of graduates younger and older than her walking across the stage, and a sense of emotion swept over her.

“I kept telling myself, I am not the youngest or oldest person that goes back to school. It wasn’t embarrassing. I had accomplished something. It made me feel good. I took pride in my accomplishment and that my kids witnessed every moment of it. My middle son kept asking me ‘why are you in school?’ I wanted to show him.”

This October, Meagan began classes to earn a bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Administration through Purdue University Global in an online program. She will complete the bachelor’s degree program in June 2023 and was pleased to find out that many of her Surry Community College classes transferred into her bachelor’s degree program.

“Thanks to Surry Community College, a ton of credits were accepted there,” Meagan said.

Meagan has big plans for her future.

“I am hoping to become a clinic administrator or obtain a leadership role, and I am also interested in teaching medical office classes one day,” she said. “I have always loved the healthcare setting. I love how fast paced it is. There is never a slow moment. I love that it’s ever changing, and there is always something new to learn and grasp.”

She also feels fulfillment in assisting patients in her healthcare role.

“I love helping people. At one time, I felt like I wasn't helping patients because I was not in a clinical position or at the bedside, but I am making a difference. I help patients understand their billing and insurance, why appointments have changed, help get needed procedures authorized, and so much more. I take a lot of pride in that. I have even had patients who stopped going to a practice because I was no longer there. Even though you aren’t providing care at bedside, you are still making a difference. I was touching people’s lives through my work. That is a big thing I enjoy about healthcare.”

Meagan has this to say to other people who might be in a similar situation.

“If you have started, don’t give up. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you truly want something bad enough, then you can achieve it,” she said. “I did it for my kids, but all in all, I did it for me. Do it for you because you want to accomplish something. Don’t give up. Keep your eye on the prize. You are capable. If I can do it after 20 years, after all that I went through, I know anyone can.”

SCC’s Medical Office Administration program offers a degree, diploma and three certificates including Medical Office Administration, Medical Billing & Insurance and Patient Services Representative. The program prepares students for employment as medical administrative personnel in the areas of medical billing and coding, dental office, patient services, and medical documents.

Spring registration for new students begins Nov. 7. For questions about college application, financial aid, or class registration, contact Student & Workforce Services at (336) 386-3264 or studentservices@surry.edu.

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