PENDLETON — Sometimes in life you have to lose in order to win.
Travis Rice is a testament of how sudden and unexpected events in life, like losing a job and your livelihood, can turn into life lessons that lead to a different direction. For Rice, the layoff was the catalyst for change that resulted in the discovery, at age 37, of a surprising new career calling.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture and real estate development from Clemson University, Rice spent the first half of the 2000s working as an architect/developer in Atlanta.
“It was a great career,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a lifelong career until 2008 came and the housing market crashed.”
The economic downturn and the housing bubble led to half of the workforce at Regent Partners, LLC, including Rice, affected by devastating job cuts. With no job prospects, Rice was forced to leave Atlanta and headed back to his hometown of Anderson.
“I thought I could develop underserved communities and engage in Public-Private Partnership projects in the city where I grew up,” said the 1997 T.L. Hanna High grad. “My back-up plan was a no go,” he remembers.
He began to send out a steady stream of resumes, but still no offers.
At his mother’s suggestion, he joined her as a volunteer — presumably just for a day — at AnMed Health. “She thought volunteerism could jump start a new career and a desire to work in health care,” he said.
Rice agreed to go and about a month later, volunteerism turned into a nursing assistant job with on-the-job training and a much needed paycheck. But he was always banking on the economy rebounding and returning to Atlanta as a real estate developer.
But his mother’s intuition was right –volunteering eventually led to a decision to enter the health care field — and a strong desire to help others. His decision was influenced by AnMed Health Neurosciences Nurse Manager Chuck Horton.
“Fortunately, I landed a volunteer role on one of the best floors in the hospital — neurosciences — under one of the best nurse managers, Chuck Horton. He was always encouraging volunteers to go to nursing school. A month passed and that volunteer nursing assistant position turned into a paying Certified Nurse Aide (C.N.A.) position. That meant income! I needed that stability for me and my twin daughters,” he said.
He continued to interview for real estate development jobs in the Upstate but nothing materialized. He began to get offers to return to Atlanta but didn’t want to leave his daughters. He enrolled in prerequisite classes at Tri-County Technical College’s Anderson Campus — just in case he decided to apply to the College’s associate degree nursing program.
He breezed through the anatomy and physiology, chemistry and microbiology and even organic chemistry classes. He began seriously to think about med school. Still, in the back of his mind, he hadn’t given up on real estate development and continued to interview for jobs.
At the Anderson Campus, he met anatomy and physiology instructor David Little, who became a friend and mentor like Horton.
“He told me he could see me as a doctor or a physician’s assistant,” said Rice.
He respected Little and Horton’s comments and encouragement but it was a patient on 7 South who really made an impact on Rice.
“This patient really made it click for me,” said Rice, referring to a chronically-ill homeless man who had been there for over a year. “He was non-compliant and combative and uncommunicative. He didn’t talk to anyone. One day I decided to dive in and get to know the man. Over the next few weeks, he became a priority. I started with his hygiene. One day, after grooming, feeding, bathing top to bottom, fighting through the stubbornness, working with therapy, showering and shaving, he looked like a new person.
“When I wheeled him out in the lobby, no one knew who he was,” he added. “It was amazing. And he spoke. He thanked me. But I told him he did more for me than I did for him. A man of few words thanked me. That’s when I knew this was the career for me – hands-on care. He solidified my choice. We both felt appreciated. The light came on. I saw what I could do.”
In a lot of ways, he says he applied his architecture skills to health care. He felt the same sense of accomplishment but this time he was working with a person – not a project.
“I love seeing things come to life. Before, it was a drawing on paper – now it’s clients who are ill and need my help. It’s an amazing parallel and an amazing feeling,” he said.
Four months later, his patient was moved to an assisted living facility and on Rice’s day off, he went to the hospital and wheeled him down to the transport area.
“There were tears on both ends,” he said. “It was very emotional. As an architect, I had never cried over a building. We shook hands and hugged. He told me I changed his life. The truth is, he changed my life. I made up my mind that I was going to make a difference. That patient, that experience, those failures, those successes led me to nursing school.”
Meeting that gentleman was a defining moment for Rice, one he calls his ‘road to Damascus.’
“Now, I’m all in. I think a lot about him because he is part of my story,” said Rice.
“Entering Tri-County’s nursing program and working at the hospital have added a layer of empathy to me. It has helped me as a dad, a son, a brother, a person and a student,” he added.
Rice has the same drive as a student that he does in his weekend job as a Certified Nursing Assistant on the Neuroscience ICU floor at AnMed. During his freshman year, he juggled a weekend C.N.A. job while bartending at restaurants during the week.
This semester, during the week he was a full-time associate degree nursing student at the Pendleton Campus, taking two classes while maintaining his clinical preceptorship at St Francis from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. Every Monday and Wednesday he spent with fellow students in ATI study groups, reviewing and preparing for the NCLEX RN exam. He also served as president of the Student Nurses Association.
Recently, Rice accepted a job in the neuro-intensive care unit on the Neuroscience floor at AnMed Health. He plans to pursue his BSN degree. His goal is to be a nurse practitioner or a certified RN anesthetist.
“My friends from Hanna tell me they never would have placed me in a nursing career. But I’ve thought about it and I disagree. An architect is detailed, does his research and educates his clients about ideas. A nurse does the same thing in a hospital. Patient education is key, along with prioritizing and discipline,” he said. “I always thought of myself as Travis Rice, architect. But now I am Travis Rice, R.N.”