Nursing student maps unusual career path

Ben Thomas decided when he was a kid growing up in Anderson, S.C., that he wanted to graduate from the University of South Carolina.

“I’ve been a Gamecock my whole life,” Thomas says. “I knew I was going to get my undergraduate degree from Carolina no matter what it was. I came for a visit and I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s going to be hard in May to leave.”

Thomas, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, is spending his last semester at Carolina basically living the life of a nurse, working 12-hour shifts one-on-one with a registered nurse at a local hospital.

“You get really good experience,” he says. “By spring break, we’re doing everything they’re doing.”

He already has a job lined up after graduation as a critical care nurse, which he plans to do for a few years before heading off to medical school.

While the route to med school through nursing is not unheard of, it is rare for students to start with that in mind.

“That is a fairly unique plan,” says Sabra Smith, a nurse practitioner and professor in the College of Nursing. “The philosophies and the theoretical underpinnings of nursing are quite different than that for medicine.

“Nurses are trained with a wide perspective and holistic approach. We try to treat the patients and treat the family. It’s not quite as much of the disease perspective as medicine is.”

Still, she says, his background in nursing will prepare him well for the challenges of medical school. “To have a physician with that background and that kind of training with the nursing perspective, then to add on the advance practice and diagnostics and all of that from medical school, I think it will be a fabulous combination.”

Thomas says, for him, it seems like a natural path.

“That’s who you’re going to be working in the field with, you need to learn what it’s like to do their job,” he says, adding that Smith’s class, pathophysiology, was his favorite.

“Although it was one of the hardest classes, it has been the most rewarding,” Thomas says. “While I was taking this course, everything started to ‘click’ and it made me begin to think as a real nurse.”

Thomas has found time to pursue other passions, including following Gamecock sports and being the executive officer of the student membership program in the My Carolina Alumni Association.

“Through my involvement in the Alumni Association, I have been able to meet many leaders within the university, the Columbia area and the nation,” he says. “I have formed relationships that will last forever.”

Thomas gives much of the credit for his success to his professors and administrators at the College of Nursing, saying a professor once agreed to meet with him at 9 p.m. to accommodate Thomas’ work schedule.

“As long as you give it your best effort, they are there to help you all along the way,” he says. “They’re passionate about their profession and they want to teach you the right way to do things.”

Learn more

Ben Thomas always knew he wanted to graduate from the University of South Carolina. He chose a highly competitive degree in nursing. Learn more about our College of Nursing.

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