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February 1, 2021

JCCC lifelong learner is really going places.

It’s exciting when career changes happen for someone who excels. Thomas Bristow is no exception. Johnson County Community College has helped him prepare for — and succeed in — three diverse and challenging career paths.

From railroad conductor and yardmaster to mechanical engineer to medical student, the College has played a fundamental role in each of his accomplishments.

“A major part of my success was the quality of education I received at JCCC,” Bristow said.

Fast Track to Success

Bristow first set foot on the JCCC campus in 2006 when he entered the Railroad Conductor certificate program. The National Academy of Railroad Sciences (NARS) is a partnership between JCCC and BNSF Railway. The program allows students to learn in laboratory settings through simulations that mimic real-world tasks, along with field training.

“Besides being introduced to the equipment, I was also taken through the entire General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR) curriculum,” Bristow explained. “This was immensely helpful in both securing a job as a conductor with BNSF, as well as being ahead of the game in training.”

After completing the program and working for BNSF, Bristow returned to NARS two years later to attend yardmaster training. With this he found management success at BNSF, but he longed to earn a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.  

Full STEAM Ahead

This realization steered him back to JCCC in 2011 to complete prerequisites for the Mechanical Engineering program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC).

“The robust instruction I received in math, chemistry and physics laid the groundwork that was vital in my upper-level classes,” he said. “Without this high-quality base to build on, it would be easy to struggle in the engineering curriculum.” 

His JCCC courses prepared him well. Bristow graduated summa cum laude from UMKC in 2015. He built an impressive résumé, working for B/E Aerospace, Burns & McDonnell and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Despite his success, this career would not be the last for him.

Next Stop: JCCC — then Medical School

Bristow’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2000, and by 2015, his symptoms had become increasingly immobilizing. Bristow and his wife decided to move his parents into their home and assist with his father’s care. His dad, who had worked as a pharmacist for 30 years, engaged him in many interesting discussions about medicine during the time they spent together.

“These conversations, in addition to being a caregiver, led me to the realization that I had a calling in medicine,” Bristow said. “I felt I could have a direct and meaningful impact on people's lives.”

Prior to applying to medical school, Bristow needed to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). To him, his next step was obvious.

“I knew that my best course of action was to head back to JCCC once again,” he said.

In 2018, he left his job at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin his post-baccalaureate studies, which consisted of two and a half semesters of biology and chemistry.

“It was exactly the foundation I needed for the MCAT,” he said. “Everything I needed to know was taught in the classes I took at JCCC.”

Then, just a month before Bristow was set to take the exam, his father passed away. Bristow decided to postpone taking the MCAT until summer 2020. He interviewed with the University of Kansas School of Medicine in October and was accepted.

He’s completing his very last prerequisite, Organic Chemistry II, at JCCC this spring and then will start medical school in July. He plans to specialize in either diagnostic radiology or orthopedic surgery. 

It’s a Privilege

When asked what advice he would give fellow students, Bristow said it would be to view your education as a privilege. “Motivation for me comes from the realization that life is short and we are only given one shot at it,” he said. “We have all of these amazing tools at our disposal to improve ourselves. Why not use them to their fullest?”

What Are You Waiting For?

Like Bristow, you can turn your interest or calling into a successful career. Explore JCCC’s many program options — from Railroad Sciences to Engineering to Biology and so many more. From start to finish, our Student Success Center team will show you how your career choice can make a difference in your life, and the lives of others.