Frank Czaplinski

Williamsburg Technical College

"You hear those cliches about learning being a lifelong process, but I think there’s validity in that. As long as I’m able, I want to keep learning."

Once things settled down a bit after their move from metropolitan New Jersey to rural Williamsburg County, SC, Frank Czaplinski’s wife asked him, “What would you like to do with your retirement?”

You might expect the usual responses.

“Let’s travel!”

“I think I’ll take up a new hobby.”

“I just wanna relax!”

But then you wouldn’t know Frank Czaplinski. Or how that question would re-kindle a long-held affection for the medical field.

So what did Frank do instead? He drove down the road to Williamsburg Technical College to inquire about its Practical Nursing program.

How would you describe your first impression of Williamsburg Tech?

Wonderful?! I mean that literally. When I first walked into Student Affairs to ask about enrolling, I couldn’t have met a more extraordinarily helpful person. Her name sticks with me – she was Wonderful Collins. She immediately set me up to get admitted to the college and then sent me over to the Nursing office, where I learned about the Practical Nursing program and what I’d need to do for it.

I think if I had gone to the college that day and met with resistance – even if it was just “So-and-so is at lunch. Can you come back later?” – things might have turned out differently. But that’s not what happened at all. And here I am today – a graduate who recently passed the NCLEX!

Your interest in the medical field… when and where did it start?

When I was a teenager, I was convinced that I was going to medical school. I took every Biology course I could; I took Latin; I applied to several colleges. I was even accepted to the New England College of Osteopathy. But I also struggled to see myself going to school for that many more years.

Around the age of 17, maybe 18, I went with my mother, who was a CPR instructor, to help her with a course at a firehouse. The minute I walked in, it was a magical experience. I knew immediately that emergency services was what I wanted to do.

I got certified as an EMT by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and was perfectly happy for about three years. But then a better-paying opportunity came along in law enforcement, and I thought, This will keep me on the road, and I can still participate in some emergency medical calls while also making a better living.

Looking back, was that a wise choice?

Yes. I enjoyed my career immensely. I did a lot of front-end, uniform-type work that kept me on the streets and in contact with people. In fact, it was in that line of work that I experienced my greatest professional accomplishment. I say this humorously, but I have literally raised people from the dead.

We love a good resurrection story. Do tell!

There were five instances in which I received Lifesaving Awards for CPR saves.

The first time this happened, I encountered a dentist in the neighborhood where I used to live who was flat-out dead. It was just me and him and his wife in the room, and I did CPR on him until the ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital. And he lived.

There was also this other guy who overdosed on a porch. I was doing CPR on him before the paramedics came in and gave him Narcan and defibrillated him. When he revived, we told him, “You’ve got to go to the hospital.” And he said, “Well, let’s go.” He went from completely dead to walking to the ambulance on his own!

So not quite the walking dead, I guess, but still a humbling – if amusing! – reminder of the very thin line between life and death…

Yes. Those are the good stories. But I also believe there is a PTSD element for anybody who does an emergency services job for their entire career. I retired when I was 48, but I took a 10-year gap between when I retired and when I returned to school because I needed time to offload all that I had seen and experienced during those years. As a professional, you try to stay as detached as possible, but there’s still a lot of emotional baggage that only time can help heal.

The move to South Carolina helped with that?

It did. My wife and I had done similar work and lived a metropolitan, maritime-oriented lifestyle for a long time. We wanted a change, so we started looking at gentleman’s farms up and down the East Coast. It was actually on a whim that we ventured all the way down to South Carolina. But as soon as we discovered our current property, it was perfect! We’re technically “townies” because we live in the town of Lane, but there are only 500 people here, so it’s very rural.

So you settled in, and your wife asked the important question – “What’s next?” Was nursing your first thought?

Medical was my first thought. I wouldn’t have minded going back to EMS, but at 59 years old, I wasn’t sure how practical it was for me to be on the road so much.

I would have considered taking the MCAT and trying to get back into a pre-med program. But a resident who’s 70 years old? That would kill me!

I landed on nursing because that’s what I probably would have pursued back in 1983 if I hadn’t taken my crooked little journey instead. Just like ending up in South Carolina was, maybe, kismet, so was my decision to pursue nursing.

Tell us some highlights of your college experience.

One: The coursework was intense – especially the last semester. I was taking Pediatrics and Geriatrics at the same time, as well as completing the prep work for taking the NCLEX. (If you’re not familiar with nursing, you have to take an exam to show that you are qualified enough to take the exam!) I guess I thought that, since I was so close to the end, I could glide to the finish line. But that turned out to be my busiest semester.

Two: The Nursing instructors at Williamsburg Tech are very, very invested in student success. I was not expecting the personal interest they took in my success. I understand that the school and program are judged by the exam pass rate. But what I experienced went way beyond that – from Dean Anderson all the way down.

Three: Going to college as an older person is the thing to do because you know how to appreciate the experience. If we were doing a lab, I wasn’t just checking a box to get through it. I really wanted to dig in and learn and integrate it with the knowledge and experience I already have. The maturity that comes with age makes college a completely different experience for someone like me.

And four: Money is not a reason not to go to college – especially a technical college, and especially if you’re over 60. Not only was Lottery Tuition Assistance very, very helpful in my case, but if you are a resident of this state and over the age of 60, you can go to a state college for free. There may be nominal fees, but tuition is generally covered.

So what’s next for you?

I think hospital work is the way for me to go.

I did some clinical work in a few of the local nursing homes. But I felt like people were looking at me, thinking, Is this a patient who found some scrubs and is posing as a staff member as part of an escape plan?

When I was in New Jersey, my experience was at University Hospital in Newark. I enjoyed that and would like to attach myself to a medical university, so I’ve applied to MUSC Black River, which would be my first choice. But the drive to MUSC Florence isn’t bad either. And if those don’t pan out, I really enjoyed my clinical experience at McLeod Health with my instructor Cyndi Koehler, so that’s also a possibility.

And I may also return to technical college and upgrade my license to RN. You hear those cliches about learning being a lifelong process, but I think there’s validity in that. As long as I’m able, I want to keep learning.