WAXAHACHIE — The road from the classroom to hospital floor is difficult and one fraught with obstacles and challenges — not unlike those faced by Jeremiah Harris during more than a decade of track and field.

And every medical professional knows the Hippocratic Oath. They breathe the verbal promise word-for-word like the precious oxygen they provide for unconscious patients unable to breathe on their own and the faith they have their training and the medicine in their arsenal will save a life.

In many ways, Harris' steps around Texas tracks in four years at Waxahachie High School and his decision to pursue a nursing degree at Midland University on May 19 represented a physical promise.

"It was actually last year when I was sitting in health science class that I decided this is what I want to do with my life," he said about his decision to save lives as a junior. "My plan was to be a paramedic and then be a nurse, but I decided to skip the paramedic stuff and be a nurse straight through. I just want to save lives. It's cool to me that someone can do that and give a person another day on this planet whether it's through CPR or surgical procedures."

PATH TO MEDICINE

On average, an associate's degree encompassing the EMT-Basic (EMT-B), EMT-Intermediate (EMT-I) or EMT-Paramedic (EMT-P) can take between six months and two years. Two years of additional training is needed to become a nurse.

Midland's nursing program will help him do it in just under four years.

Though the dream and will were present, the funds to pay for one of the best regional Midwest nursing programs in the country was not — especially for blue-collar parents like Michelle and Thomas Harris. Jeremiah's parents both work for Dallas ISD, the former as a head custodial manager and the latter as a teacher.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Midland is the No. 48 Regional Midwest institution in the country but is also one of its most expensive. Balance, both in school and out of it, has been a key to keeping the Waxahachie's trajectory on the straight and narrow.

"I really didn't know about how good of a school Midland University was until they reached out to me," Jeremiah said with a grin, pulling at a gray blue and gold 'Warrior Strong' Midland University T-shirt. "It was really the way my parents raised me and always supported me that's helped me get to where I am right now. I played football since I was 5 years old and ran track since I was 6 and I've always been able to balance out sports and school. They made me very proactive about my future. Sometimes I did my homework in the 15 minutes we had at the end of class and other times I used weekends to study ahead."

Sometimes his parent's support came when Michelle sat side-by-side with her son and explained complex mathematical equations while his dad worked nights. Other times, it was Thomas rushing from of work to shuffle Jeremiah to practice after daily practice or sit in a packed bleacher section at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium for an Indian football game or during the well known "Little and Big Green Relays."

BUMP IN THE ROAD

That support continued after his athletics future was put in jeopardy when Jeremiah broke his ankle in the second game of the 2016 season against Azle High School during the Dale Hansen Tournament.

Despite the setback, he defied odds and roared into and out of his junior and senior seasons. To fuel his run through 2016 and 2017, Jeremiah used former Olympic and world champion Justin Gatlin as a high mark.

"Besides being criticized for the use of [a banned substance]," Jeremiah said. "He still came back and showed out. He didn't quit and he didn't give up. It showed me that no matter what happens you can still work your butt off, come back and prove everybody wrong. It was iffy that I was going to make it back for the track season and there was a chance that I'd miss an entire year of sports. I had to come back and prove that I could not only come back but also that I could come back stronger."

Collegiate doors opening throughout the country rewarded his resilience. And Midland wasn't Jeremiah's only choice, either.

The University of Texas and Southern Methodist University were on the short list of schools wanting to be in the Jeremiah Harris business. The embrace of both the coaching staff and the community, he said, made the choice to become a Warrior easy.

So did his post scholarship tuition bill.

NEBRASKA SAVIORS

The result of running track for 12 years and playing football for 13 was the sum of a $20,000 scholarship — enough to pay for the lion's share of his tuition. A year of schooling at Nebraska's Midland University will cost, sans room and board and book fees, costs $28,850.

His scholarship decreased the cost to Jeremiah, Michelle and Thomas to $8,850 not including $7,632 for room and board and $1,020 for books and supplies. The grueling curriculum, too, wasn't an issue for the education-forward Jeremiah, who said he was well aware of the high attrition rate of nursing majors.

In Catherine Griswold's 2014 Walden University thesis "Understanding Causes of Attrition of 1st- and 2ndYear Nursing Students," studies revealed nursing programs saw a decline in students who are completing their nursing degrees — between 50 and 70 percent — during a 10-year span.

It isn't just the collegiate coursework that provides a tough road for nursing hopefuls, though.

THE NCLEX OBSTACLE

According to a 2016 study by Kaplan, a company that offers a wide variety of preparatory study information for critical tests like the ACT, SAT and LSAT, the National Council Licensure Examination — commonly known as the NCLEX — is one of the most difficult examinations for repeat testers.

"The National Council of State Boards of Nursing released its 2016 first-quarter NCLEX pass rates for the NCLEX-RN," the study stated. "First-time US-educated test takers passed at a rate of 83.59 percent (42,524 students), but repeat US-educated test takers' numbers fell to 42.92 percent (10,770 students)."

Jeremiah, however, has acceptance and athletics on his side. According to the National League for Nursing's Biennial Survey of Schools of Nursing in 2014, 31 percent of applicants were rejected at schools throughout the nation despite a nationwide nursing shortage.

According to the National League for Nursing, there are too few faculty members to instruct students and 41 percent of undergraduate nursing programs don’t have enough clinical practice sites. The aging of the Baby Boomer generation and the graying of a large segment of the field's more than 3.1 million registered nurses, too, presents a unique problem for medical care.

There are more people older than 65 than at any time in our country’s history. The American Nurses Association estimated that 53 percent of registered nurses are over age 50 and that 700,000 of them will retire in the next decade.

"That's how things work, one generation gives way to another," Jeremiah said with a trademark grin. "We're going to have to be the new life savers of the world. That's why I see myself as a traveling nurse. It's not about money. It's about helping as many people as you can in the time God allows you whether it's right here in Waxahachie or in some tiny village on the coast of Africa."

WINDS OF CHANGE

The winds of change — a welcome sign for Jeremiah and the incoming 2017 class — could be set to blow through and across the Lone Star State.

In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected more than 430,000 additional registered nurse jobs would be created in the next 10 years. The Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies estimated demand for registered nurses in the Lone Star State would rise 86 percent by 2020.

He's also could join a field that's increased from 9.4 percent in 1995 to 12.2 percent in 2014 in the number of black or African-American nurses in the U.S.

It was the largest minority group according to the study with Hispanic (8.1), Asian of Pacific Islander (5.9) and American Indian (1.5) following in second, third and fourth.

Collegiate athletes do better per a 2014 study done by Angela Lumpkin, professor of health, sport and exercise sciences at the University of Kansas, and Rebecca Achen, a KU doctoral candidate and graduate teaching assistant. Their studies showed athletes had higher percentages of days of school attended, graduation rates and lower dropout rates than nonathletes.

For Jeremiah and his goal of doing pro bono work with the nationally known Doctors Without Borders, though, simpler is easier.

"God willing, I'd like to do track and field throughout my life," Jeremiah said. "If not, I'd always be a nurse trying to make the world better one patient at a time. The door would always be open for me to become a doctor or surgeon."

----

Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI

(469) 517-1456