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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

After becoming a Medical Assistant, SJVC graduate finds inspiration to succeed through family tragedies

April 14, 2020
SJVC Graduate in Cap n Gown

Two traumatic incidents in Destiny Smith’s young life decided her future career as a Clinical Medical Assistant. Her older brother and biggest supporter, James, was murdered when he was just twenty-one. And a few years later, her six-month old niece died of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

“I couldn’t do anything for her, but I wanted to learn medical so that if something like that happened again, I might be able to do something,” says Destiny. Now 22-years old, her brother’s death when she was just fourteen marked her in another way.

“James always wanted me to finish high school, go to college and have a career, to be successful,” says Destiny. “He used to always tell me he wanted me to be different from the rest of the family. He told me, ‘Don’t get food stamps, don’t get GR (General Resources), go to the store and buy your own food. You will be the one to get away from all of this.’”

A lifetime of dependency and limitation was a lot for a young teenager to try to overcome.

But the stage was set for her to have a passive life and just try to stay out of the way of harm. “We didn’t have much money,” says Destiny. “Dad was always on drugs and there was mental and physical abuse.” Her mom was a Dental Assistant and worked as many hours as she could to provide for Destiny and her four siblings (before James’ death). “When she realized what was going on, we moved overnight so he couldn’t find us. She apologizes to us to this day.”

Life at home improved in many ways, but there was still never enough money. “I’m the youngest so I mainly got the hand-me-downs. She felt James’ influence even stronger during those early years. He seemed to put all his hope for the future on her.

“I was grateful for it,” she says. “Had he not given me that encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I would probably have a kid and on the county, getting food stamps. Not that anything is wrong with that; it helps people out. But my brother said it makes you dependent on the county, and you will sit around and wait for that.  It wasn’t healthy, and it wasn’t for me.”

After a few years in retail sales, Destiny was ready to make a commitment to the medical career she envisioned. She started comparing local schools and training programs. “SJVC stood out to me,” she says, “with their ratings, their Yelp reviews. I read the student stories (SJVC website: and those inspired me to fill out the paperwork online. Literally two minutes after I completed the paperwork, someone called me!”

A couple of days later Destiny took a tour of the Lancaster campus. “Everyone was nice and introduced themselves to me,” she remembers. “We went into the medical classroom and there were beds for ‘patients’, blood pressure machines and everything was hands-on. I thought, ‘yeah, this is what I want’. I wanted to help people, take vitals. I wanted to be in the mix with patients, talking to them, writing everything down.” This was it. She started the Clinical Medical Assisting program two weeks later.

Destiny found her footing right away. “It was definitely the hands-on that brought out the best in me because I like to just jump in and do it,” she says. The procedure she dreaded doing the most became her favorite thing to do.

“Venipuncture, blood draw,” she remembers. “I was scared they’re going to hurt me! I loved Mrs. Blunt (instructor) and she was right there to guide us. Now I love venipuncture and injections. It’s just so easy and you’re poking them really quickly and putting solution in.” She is also the first to volunteer to have a student practice on her.

It took her a little longer to get comfortable with urinalysis. “You have to contribute and do the labs of other students,” says Destiny. “That caught me off guard. We were like, ‘no, you’re lying!’ But not one person didn’t participate.”

The hardest part of school for Destiny was not academic or hands-on participation; it was just getting there. “I didn’t have a car and had to find a ride to school and a ride home every day,” she says. “It was a struggle every day. A lot of family worked, but my grandmother (Carmen) helped me the most to get there.”

Destiny’s focus on succeeding in her program earned her a 3.7 GPA and a place on the Dean’s List.

“One thing I absolutely love about Destiny is this girl knows what she wants,” says Brittany Matlock, Career Services Advisor. “She is hungry to accomplish and reach her goals. You can see her talent, potential and determination through her eyes. I am absolutely proud of her and I know she will do great things in the future.”

Destiny completed her Clinical Medical Assisting program in September 2019 and now works for a State prison. “I provide care to inmates; I take their vitals, enter information into the computer and give shots for the flu, shingles, chicken pox and handle their DME (Durable Medical Equipment).”

She seems perfectly comfortable in this lock-up environment. “It’s not threatening,” says Destiny. “We carry little alarms on us and a whistle, but there’s always a Correctional Officer right there with us. I’ve heard alarms go off on other inmates, but I feel safe.”

Destiny is comfortable wherever she finds herself, even when she is among those who might do her harm. “I’m nice, but don’t give off the impression I’m a friend. Everyone is a human being, and I will treat you that way.”

Her medical career is right where Destiny always hoped it might be. “I see myself here at the prison for a while – probably until I retire,” she reflects. The benefits are great with medical/vision and 401k. Good advantages for me to stay here.”

Destiny was inspired to succeed by her brother and niece, but her mom, grandmothers and siblings have lovingly stepped into that role. “My sister, Jasmine (27) is the one who is always so happy with my accomplishments,” she says. “Whenever I succeed, she tells me, ‘Me and the kids are so, so proud of you’. When I graduated (SJVC), it was her and the kids cheering me on.”

Destiny wants to pass that encouragement along to others – especially those whose family might not have given them the support or inspiration for them to reach higher. “What your family is, isn’t you,” she emphasizes. “You can’t let other people tell you (that) you aren’t successful. Put your mind to it and just know that wherever you go, there will be someone to help you do it.”

All beginnings start by showing up. What you need will surely follow.

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