Graduate Beth Rice forges a winding path to success

Published 1:56 pm Monday, March 22, 2021

As an adult, Beth Rice knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity. But as a young girl from Wallins, Kentucky, the future seemed clear and bright. With her off-the-charts IQ and standardized test scores, she stayed focused on academics.

“It was very important to me to maintain straight A’s, or come as close as I could,” she said. “It was important to make my family proud and to see my career goal of becoming a doctor or hospital administrator.”

The high school Salutatorian enrolled in classes at Southeast immediately after graduation, and she earned an associate in applied science in 1999. However, she didn’t enter the health care field immediately. Instead, she stayed with her job at Food City until 2004, when her father’s dying wish inspired her to become a nurse.

“I always remembered him asking me to become a nurse when I grew up. He told me if I was a nurse, I would always have a job and make a good living,” she said.

After earning her degree as an RN from LMU, she worked at UT on a cardiac step down unit. Then she worked in the ER and the ICU at Claiborne County Hospital.

“I loved the ER,” said Beth. “There was always something new and exciting going on, and I had a lot of unique experiences.”

But life took an unexpected turn. After her father’s death, two surgeries, a new baby, working 12-hour shifts, and continuing her education towards her bachelor’s in nursing, Beth found herself “over worked, tired, stressed out, depressed, and grieving.” To cope, she turned to prescription pain medication.

Unfortunately, this choice came with tragic consequences: In 2008, Beth lost her job and had her nursing license suspended.

“After years of the back and forth of addiction, I finally dedicated my life to Jesus. I knew I didn’t want my life to keep going down this road, and I was too smart and driven not to achieve my lifetime goals,” said Beth.

As a first step, she took a job at the Portal Restaurant in 2016. After a year of sobriety and steady work, she realized it was time to begin the next steps to achieve her career goals.

“I loved my job, but I knew I had more to offer the world,” she said. “I wanted a better career to support my family.”

She saw flyers about the medical coding program at Southeast, so she went to the Harlan Campus and signed up.

According to Southeast recruiter Erica Farmer, Beth was able to receive significant financial assistance and supplemental resources through the College’s community partnerships. With that and other financial aid assistance, she was able to attend tuition free.

Beth graduated in 2017 with her medical coding certificate. She continued her education and earned an associate in science for medical information technology/medical coding track, along with four other certificates from Hazard Community and Technical College. In fall 2019, she enrolled in classes at Midway College and earned her bachelor’s in business administration. She is also taking graduate classes at Midway with plans to earn an MBA with a concentration in healthcare administration.

Unfortunately, Beth’s past struggles with addiction would continue to haunt her. In summer 2019, she began working as a clinical coder for ARH, but that November, she was terminated due to complications with her suspended nursing license. Undeterred, Beth went through the nine-month process to have her name removed from the Office of Inspector General’s exclusion list and was once again eligible to work for federal healthcare programs.

A few weeks ago, Beth began a new job with the Harlan County Health Department as a disease investigator with the state of Kentucky.

“I absolutely love my position!” she said.

As part of her duties, Beth interviews positive COVID cases and determines how they were exposed and who they may have come in contact with. She also teaches them quarantine procedures and how to care for themselves. Following the interview, she enters their information into the state database system and links cases for contact tracing. She also registers patients to receive the COVID vaccine.

“I cannot begin to tell you how proud we are of Beth,” said Farmer. “She has shown that through hard work and perseverance, even the most difficult challenges can be overcome.”

When asked what advice she would give to someone suffering from addiction who feels hopeless, Beth exudes encouragement:

“You can change.  It’s not too late. It’s never too late.  You and your family deserve the opportunity to be normal.  That is all I use to pray for— to just be normal.”

She emphasizes the importance of networking, asking for help, doing your own research, and setting small, attainable goals before setting long-term goals.

“Ask questions. No questions are stupid. There are many resources available for financial, emotional, and educational support. Take sobriety one day at a time, and before you know it, your life will come together with blessings and accomplishments you never thought could happen when you were using,” she said.

Above all, Beth credits her faith for her success.

“I believe in Jesus Christ and asked him to forgive me of my sins and take my addiction away.  I prayed and dedicated myself to following His will.  He hasn’t let me down and has always provided a way.”

Beth is on track to achieve her childhood dream of becoming a hospital administrator. Until then, she has already reached her most important goal: making her family—husband Jack and daughters Brooklynn (14) and Harley (11)—proud.

“You will make mistakes. You will never be perfect,” she said, “but you can control the direction of your destiny by making positive choices. Education will open doors you thought were impossible.”