JCHS Veteran Profile: Meet Stephen Harris

Stephen Harris, an Army veteran, former Roanoke County deputy sheriff, husband and father of three children (ages 11 months, four and seven) found his niche at Jefferson College of Health Sciences. The skills he learned on the job and in the military were easily translatable to the demands of his education. As an airborne infantryman from 2003-2005 and a deputy sheriff from 2006-2009, he learned discipline, organization, responsibility, and planning, he says.

Harris entered JCHS as an undergraduate, receiving his BS in Biomedical Sciences in May 2012; he then entered the Physician Assistant program that fall, and anticipates graduating December 2014. He entered in law enforcement due to the job skills he acquired in the military, and working in the sheriff’s department was a natural segue. His sister-in-law, Christine Hodge, who graduated from the JCHS Physician Assistant program in July 2003, provided guidance and inspiration to Harris. He knew that his end goal was to be a Physician Assistant and realized that the undergraduate biomedical sciences degree would provide a good start. Concurrent with that undergraduate degree, Harris also earned a degree in Medical Laboratory Sciences.

He knew that getting into the PA program was going to be tough – but he had a good support system with family, and his wife, Michelle, who homeschools their children. He also did a year of research on sucralose, the active ingredient in Splenda, trying to determine if the remainders of it, left in the body, becomes harmful. This, in addition to his 3.97 GPA, got him in the door of the program, but he has a few suggestions for those contemplating this pursuit:  “First off, do shadowing to make sure this is what you want to do – I did. Then, you have to have a good support system -- my family is helpful and very motivating,” he says.

A support system is crucial to Harris, given that his last three semesters of the PA program are long clinical rotations, at times 12-hour days, six days a week. He feels that JCHS has been a great fit for him because of the small class sizes, the professors who are willing to get to know their students and help them succeed, and the opportunities that JCHS offers. One of those distinctive advantages was an undergraduate course in Gross Anatomy in which students were able to work with cadavers – fairly unusual for undergraduates at any college. And, he says, “I have met some really good friends here.”

Since September 11, 2001, more than 817,000 veterans have used the Post-9/11 GI bill to enroll in college courses and training programs at more than 6,000 institutions. The GI Bill has cost the government $23.7 billion so far, and more than $10 billion is expected to be spent this year on veterans and their dependents, plus about $560 million on tuition assistance for active-duty troops. A U.S. Department of Education profile, “Military Service Members and Veterans” (2011) pointed out that a larger percentage of military undergraduates, compared to nonmilitary, were married, and at the graduate level, military students were older – 40 percent were age 40 or older, compared to 20 percent of nonmilitary graduate students.

During the 2013-14 school year at JCHS, which is on the 2014 Military Friendly Schools list, 77 percent of undergraduates brought transfer credit to the school. In the Spring 2014, 23 percent of graduates were 40 years old or over. Undergraduates 40 or over made up 7.5 percent. For Harris, going to school with people who are married, have children, and have experience and education has made his transition from the military to higher education that much easier.

As a PA, Harris looks forward to being able to provide good patient care, and taking the time to get to know the patient. “I feel that as a mid-level provider, I will get to take more time with them,” he says of his future.

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"GI Bill®" is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.