My College Story: Switching Schools, Majors, and Careers

My College Story: Switching Schools, Majors, and Careers

Karen Romano

Karen Romano grew up in Charleston, SC and attended public schools throughout her childhood. Going to college was the next step, one she always knew she’d take because it was expected of her. She attended the College of Charleston and Trident Technical College, earning a BS in psychology before attending the Medical University of South Carolina, where she received a master’s degree in health administration.

Q. How did you choose where to attend college?

I chose the College of Charleston because my mom got really sick my senior year of high school. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and eventually had [both] a heart and a kidney transplant at Medical University of South Carolina. I didn’t want to leave her.

Q. Did you change majors while you were in school?

Yes, I initially was a biology major [because] I thought that I wanted to be a pediatrician. I was thrown into a bunch of science courses and had 18 credit hours scheduled the first semester. Needless to say, I dropped some classes.

As part of my mom’s evaluation for [her] heart and kidney transplants, she had to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to make sure that she was mentally prepared for these life-changing events. I went with her to this visit, and I wondered if there were kids out there younger than me (at the time I was 18 or 19) who had parents going through this same experience. At that moment, I decided that I wanted to be a child psychologist to help [other kids] talk through these types of situations.

Q. What is your current career and how did you get into it?

Currently, I am the executive director of revenue cycle management and also a certified professional coder for Palmetto Primary and Specialty Care Physicians. It is not related to my psychology degree, [but] one of my jobs working through college was in the ER as a registration clerk. Eventually, I was asked to help a doctor open up a practice. I worked closely with the CFO and CEO and thought that it was pretty interesting and I was good at it, so I decided to go back to school to get my master’s in health administration. I’ve been working in healthcare for 17 years.

Q. What exactly does your job entail?

I oversee medical billing for a large, independent, multi-specialty group of physicians. Basically, I ensure that the providers get paid for the services that they render. I also perform contracting with medical insurance companies.

Q. What's one piece of advice you have for people going into your field?

One piece of advice I would give to someone going into my field would be to become an expert in Microsoft Excel. A lot of what I do involves analyzing various types of reports. I thought I was pretty good at Excel until I had to review reports with millions of rows and fifty columns. Thank goodness for Google to help me get through it.

Q. What happened to your dreams of becoming a child psychologist?

I think it takes a special person to have a certain job. Originally, I wanted to work specifically with children who were undergoing health issues or had parents going through health issues. As a heart and kidney transplant recipient, my mom had to receive counseling to make sure she was ready for a life-changing event. I wanted to be there for kids (whether they were the patient or the child of a patient) and help them prepare for major health events.

I started thinking about other types of cases that I would see. Sure, I thought that I could probably handle the kids whose parents were separating or divorcing or the kids that just needed some counseling and wanted to be heard. Then I thought about other issues that could present: suicidal kids or kids who had been assaulted. While I did want to help people, I didn't think I was personally strong enough for those situations.

Q. If you had to go back and do one thing in college differently, what would it be? Why?

If I had to go back, I would try to be more involved in college life. I was only on campus when I had classes and I worked two jobs while I was in school, so I wasn’t able to participate in a lot of school activities.

I would also say that I would’ve just gone to Trident Technical College first to get my prerequisites done. [As it happened], I went to College of Charleston (CofC) my freshman year and then saved some money by going to Trident Tech for [the next] two years and then transferred back to CofC.

Q. Did you have any pivotal experiences in college? Tell us about one.

I was walking down Saint Philip Street by the Cistern [on my way] to my last psychology exam. At that point, I realized that I just didn’t want to do psychology anymore. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I just wanted to get my degree and graduate. Even after I graduated, I was able to go to the career center and speak to someone about careers. I knew I needed to get a master’s degree, but was torn between a master’s in health administration and a master’s in physical therapy. I took several aptitude tests and they all pointed to health administration. From that point, I just kept pursuing more knowledge in healthcare.

Q. What is something you struggled with in college?

Procrastinating! It didn’t matter if it was homework, reading something, studying for tests, or projects. I was a huge procrastinator.

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