KIMPER – You can call Danny Ratliff many things.
A husband and father.
A Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) graduate.
A pharmacy school student.
And a laid off miner.
Ratliff, 39, of Kimper, graduated from Big Sandy Community and Technical College in May with an Associate in Science degree. In March, he earned acceptance to the Appalachian College of Pharmacy in Grundy, Va.
In 2013, Ratliff and his co-workers at McCoy-Elkhorn Coal Company were laid off.
“It was devastating,” recalls Ratliff. “These layoffs were much different than the ones years ago. I remember family members talking about the layoffs of the 80’s and 90’s and talking about a few months off here or there. This time, I knew in my gut it was time for a change.”
Change came in the form of college. Through the help of the Big Sandy Community Action Program and the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc., Ratliff got assistance to pay for college.
It couldn’t had come at a better time.
When Ratliff was laid off, the federal government had stopped extensions for unemployment. He had six months of benefits and two years of school ahead of him.
He didn’t give up. Throughout most of his time as a student, Ratliff worked. He unloaded trucks for retail stores, worked at a local gun shop during the holidays and did odd jobs.
“I did whatever it took to pay the bills,” said Ratliff, the married father of two. “I remember many times that I would have a chemistry class and lab that would run until 8 p.m. I would go to work and work all night just to return to school the next day. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.” The medical field has always intrigued Ratliff. He got his first glimpse of the pharmacy profession when he was taking care of his mother, who was undergoing chemotherapy.
“I remember the pharmacist explaining how the medication interacted with my mom’s body,” he said. At that time, Ratliff was enrolled in physiology class with Clint Hackney on the Pikeville campus of BSCTC. “I was studying at the time how the body reacts to medication and other things. This brought me clarity, and I quickly realized that pharmacy was my calling.”
Dr. Tom Vierheller, professor of Biology at BSCTC, was one of Ratliff’s mentors. He recalls learning of Ratliff’s story throughout his educational journey.
“Teaching is a rewarding career,” said Dr. Vierheller. “You have students from all walks of life at a community college – high school students and traditional and non-traditional students. Watching these students overcome obstacles and work towards the goal of a college degree is very rewarding.”
Getting into pharmacy school was another challenge. He took the PCAT (Pharmacy College Admissions Test) in November. After applying for admission to the Appalachian School of Pharmacy and going through a vigorous interview process, he got the letter that he was accepted. “It was validation,” said Ratliff.
“It was validation of my work, but also validation of the time my family, particularly my wife and children, have invested in me.”
During a commencement ceremony on May 6, BSCTC President Dr. Devin Stephenson stopped Ratliff as he crossed the stage to receive his degree. Dr. Stephenson grabbed the microphone and shared his story.
He received a standing ovation.
Ratliff admits that tugged at his heart strings.
“I looked at my children and thought what an example I have set for them,” he recalled. Ratliff’s family includes his wife, April, and children Gavin, 10, and Layla, 6. “They’ve watched me do my homework and they’ve watched me cross the stage as a college graduate.”
In three years, their dad will be a pharmacist.
Ratliff admits the closing of this chapter is bittersweet.
“I couldn’t have received a better education anywhere,” he said. “I’m forever grateful to the faculty and staff at Big Sandy Community and Technical College.”
What does the future hold?
“I hope to work as a pharmacist in eastern Kentucky in a hospital setting working with cancer patients,” he said. “I want to get to know my patients, help them through their diagnosis and contribute to their recovery.”