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Raeford mother did not let obstacles get in the way of her college goals

Tonja McPhaul graduated from Richmond Community College’s Healthcare Management Technology program and is now working as an office manager for Red Springs Assisted Living. Photo by RCC

HAMLET — A single mother of five. Working a job an hour from home during the day. Studying for her college classes at night. Caring for her ailing mother.

All of these describe Tonja McPhaul’s life before she graduated from Richmond Community College in 2020 with a degree in Healthcare Management Technology.

McPhaul of Hoke County is now an office manager for Red Springs Assisted Living, a senior care center in Red Springs. In this position she does record keeping and handles financial information for the facility, in addition to providing assistance to visitors.

McPhaul had many challenges while she was working on her college degree, to say the very least, but she did not let any of them stop her from graduating.

“My kids were actually my motivation. I knew I wanted better for them, so I was just trying to finish,” McPhaul said. “My daughter, who is the only girl, would help me out a lot with a simple reminder to make sure my assignments were completed. She would say, ‘Ma, did you turn in your work?’”

While attending RichmondCC, McPhaul was working as discipline clerk for Cumberland County Schools, which was an hour drive from her home in Raeford. Prior to that, she had been working as a teacher’s assistant with Hoke County Schools.

When McPhaul graduated from high school, she had her credentials to work as a nurse aide. She worked 16 years as a certified nursing assistant and eventually became a medical assistant.

McPhaul was thinking about becoming a licensed practical nurse, but then she learned about the Healthcare Management Technology program at RichmondCC.

“I decided to apply to the program to learn more about the financial aspects of the healthcare field,” she said. “I’ve always had a love for the medical field, so I came back to what felt like home when I decided on this program.”

In Healthcare Management Technology, students learn how to manage the business and financial operations for healthcare facilities. They learn medical office management, financial management, legal aspects of healthcare, medical insurance and billing analysis, and other related topics.

The program is also offered 100 percent online, which was helpful for someone like McPhaul who was working full-time.


For McPhaul, RichmondCC had a tremendous impact on her life, and she is thankful for her Healthcare Management instructor, Arlinda Billingsley, for encouraging her when times got tough.

“Mrs. Billingsley is the absolute best. She pushed me so much, and I’m forever grateful,” McPhaul said. “RichmondCC definitely opened new doors for me, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

McPhaul is the first in her family on her mother’s side to go to college.

“My mother was also my inspiration. She was a strong woman who worked all of her life to take care of my brother and me,” McPhaul said.

Tragedy struck their family in 2012 when her brother was killed in a car crash, and their lives were drastically changed. Her mom’s health also began to fail.

“Although she was going through losing him, she never complained about anything, and she always did what was right. She never mistreated anyone,” McPhaul said. “And she loved to feed you her good cooking.”

McPhaul helped care for her mother until she passed away a few months after McPhaul graduated from RichmondCC.

“I’m happy she knew I finished what I started,” McPhaul said. “I miss her, and I hope to be half the woman she was. I know she would want me to continue to pursue my dreams, so that’s what I plan to do.”

For More Information

If you would like to learn more about the Healthcare Management Technology program at RichmondCC, call Student Services at 910-410-1700 or visit richmondcc.edu. More classes for the fall semester are starting Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, so there is still time to enroll.

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