Pamela Carter's Sunday drive to join 900 students in walking across the stage and receiving a diploma from the Community College of Baltimore County wasn't that long.
But the distance the Catonsville resident had to travel leading up to the June 3 ceremony on the CCBC-Essex campus stretched much longer for her than most.
It took the 44-year-old New Jersey native three years of work as a part-time student to earn her degree in Health Informatics and Information Technology.
Her husband of six years, James, recalled finding Carter asleep on her books as she tried to study late into the night.
He would tell his wife that she had done enough for the night and encourage her in the morning.
"Once she finds something that she enjoys, she will work hard at it," James Carter said. "Once you find your niche, what you really enjoy, you really work at it to do your best."
Sunday's graduation ceremony follows several attempts at careers in other fields that were abruptly cut short for Pamela Carter.
In 1991, Carter fell down the stairs at the pathologist office where she worked and sustained injuries that required regular medication.
After six years of prescription medication, her kidneys failed.
In 2002, she had a kidney transplant.
Because of a suppressed immune system after the transplant, Carter could no longer work with sick patients. Her weakened immune system even prevented her from pursuing an alternate career path of school teacher.
Becoming a pastry chef sounded like a "fun" alternative, so she earned a degree from the Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute at Anne Arundel Community College in 2005.
That led to 80-hour work weeks of arriving at work at 3 a.m.
Then Carter learned she had an allergy to flour and yeasts, she said.
Again, she needed to find a new career avenue.
"I still felt the need that I wanted to work in the medical field, but I couldn't have patient contact, and I couldn't deal with opening up specimens and doing a test on them," she said.
"(The health information management program) gave me the opportunity to still see different diagnoses and keep up on different techniques and different laws," Carter said.
In addition to going to class as a part-time student, Carter kept long hours as a tutor and in starting a student association at the school for the Health Informatics and Information Technology program.
She compared her time pursuing a degree at CCBC to giving birth.
"A lot of women say how painful it is, but they're willing to have another child afterwards," Carter said. "I feel the same way because I want to go back to school and start it all over again."
Carter finished CCBC with a 3.93 grade point average.
Though the work over three years at CCBC was intense, she plans on doing more advanced work soon.
She will enter Coppin State University in the fall to pursue a bachelor's degree in Health Information Management. She plans to earn her master's degree in Health Information at Johns Hopkins University.
"It's hard, but now that I kind of figured out some things, I want to know more," she said. "I know that I've just scratched the surface."
Now that she has her degree, she can expect her husband to tease her about kicking her out of the house so she can get a job, he said.
Before she can do that though, she must pass a national certification in August. She said she has already started studying.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun