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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

An interest in nursing career lands on Clinical Medical Assisting program

July 21, 2020

Like so many of her Clinical Medical Assisting program students, SJVC faculty member, Laurel Siembieda, spent a few years playing ‘hot and cold’, trying to find the ‘just right’ career to satisfy her interest in health care. Sometimes that search took her far afield into Fashion Merchandising for a Bachelor’s degree and brief employment stints in sales and food service.


The common thread in these off-road career ventures was always a focus on helping others; teaching those around her to perform their tasks a little better, reach a little higher. Laurel was gathering small pieces of experience cloth from which she would sew the career quilt of her dreams. She kept a patch from when she was a caregiver for a stroke victim, another square from her position in an allergy medical office and even a remnant from her dance instructor days.


“I was trying to figure out life,” she remembers.


Those were not misspent years. All the colors and textures she gathered worked well together. Bits and pieces of those employment experiences and education achievements gave her good insight into her natural talents and career potential. The self-motivation was already there. Laurel came from a family of well-educated, accomplished professionals and had no doubts about her own abilities to commit and sacrifice toward realizing her goals. Now it was time to focus.


“You’d be a really good nurse,” she was told more than once in reference to her empathetic and instructive demeanor. She decided to take pre-requisite classes to become a Registered Nurse. She interjected a stepping-stone to test her interest. Working in the allergist’s office gave her the hours she needed to qualify to take the California Board of Medical Assisting certification exam. She passed the exam and the door to another career possibility opened.


Laurel spent three years as a Certified Medical Assistant in a nuclear power plant’s medical facility. Warmer, but not the hot career she felt destined to enjoy. “I was getting kind of board and had my resume ready and feelers out,” she says. She wasn’t sure exactly what position she might attract but was game to explore something new.


As luck – or destiny – might have it an instinct came into play. Wherever she worked Laurel found herself training others, whether for medical front and back office duties, new dance steps or coaching new employees about office practices. “I thought about being a teacher at one point,” she says. “I’m a people person and a helper, so it made sense.”


In August 2018 San Joaquin Valley College’s Atascadero campus was looking for the right person to instruct their Clinical Medical Assisting program. “SJVC reached out to me and I decided to explore it,” says Laurel. “I was skeptical at first about a private school – sometimes they don’t have the best reputation – but I decided that, ok, this is the real thing.” In business since 1977, San Joaquin Valley College has a strong history and reputation.


It was on. “I went for an interview, had a second interview, had a third interview, then decided it was a good fit and growth opportunity.”


As a new faculty member for the Atascadero college, Laurel may not have had a lot of official teaching experience, but she had a firm grasp on what the college wanted to give their students and how she could best support those practices and ideals.


“I want them (Medical Assisting program students) to get a full understanding of the job they’re going into,” says Laurel. “We teach them professionalism and groom them for that transformation (from student to employee). They gain more confidence with themselves as they see what they get from going to school. We watch them grow and you can see such a change in their demeanor.”


Laurel makes it both professional and personal. “The best thing is being able to interact with students to kind of gage their thoughts on the medical field; to find out more about them and why they’re here.”

People from all walks of life, work history and varying levels of success and failure sit in her Medical Assisting class. “They may not have done well in the past, in high school, for instance,” says Laurel. “They find they can do well if they put in the work. I’ve had students say they’ve never done well in school and now they can get straight As.”


Laurel explains the reasons for a different outcome. “One difference is maturity. Also, this program is something that they want to do, not like mandatory general education. Those types of mundane classes you have to do; but when you have something you’re super interested in, you’re paying attention and will do so much better.” Genuine interest and excitement equal success.


Laurel’s teaching style is very communicative and interactive. “It’s (MA class) super hands-on, which is better than sitting there and listening. I don’t want to just talk at them. I ask them questions, too, to check on their understanding. I’m always there to help them, tutor them or stay after school.”


She has found an effective balance of push and pause. “I want to give them a higher level of learning, but at the same time I don’t want to make it too difficult for them to understand. I want to find that middle ground where they can use critical thinking skills, but not to the point that it is out of their reach to understand.”


“Ms. S is an amazing instructor,” says Ashley Herrera, MA student. “She is always looking for ways to help her students. When there’s something you don’t understand, she will do one-on-one tutoring to help. I really appreciate her and her willingness to help!”


Classroom highlights often occur when MA students first practice venipuncture and injections on each other. “It’s always fun to watch their excitement about getting an injection right,” says Laurel. “Watching them smiling, practicing their skills and accomplishing something is gratifying.”


Sometimes what they learn in the classroom or lab transfers to a real-life medical situation. “One of my students had an episode at work where someone went into diabetic shock,” says Laurel. “He remembered what I’d talked about and was able to use it in real life. He gave (the shock victim) some juice to get some sugar in them. That was pretty cool.”


Laurel has more to pass along to her students than the curriculum of their Medical Assisting program and high value of professionalism. “I have a really strong work ethic and want the best for people,” she says. Her Medical Assisting program students admire the standard she represents and encourages them to adopt.


A few months ago, all SJVC campuses moved their business, medical and technical programs to online studies. Since moving to virtual classrooms, the Medical Assisting program uses such tools as Microsoft Teams and video chat to deliver lessons and support faculty-student interaction.


“Basically, students can go online for a live lecture and can participate, while at the same time I am recording to put the lecture on Brightspace for them to re-watch or, if they didn’t make the lecture, they can recapture it.”


Communication is still a priority. “I usually will have conversations with students through email,” says Laurel. “I tell them I would love to connect with them over Team’s video chat. I help them with whatever they need; homework related, if they’re just stressed out, or need help organizing their schedules a little better.” Students respond very positively to the extra effort Laurel makes.


“Ms. S has made the transition from campus to online learning so much easier for me,” says Jazmyn Solano. “She’s always willing to help whenever I have questions. She goes above and beyond for her students. I’m truly grateful to have her as one of my teachers.”


That feeling of closeness is a quality nurtured across all SJVC campuses. “This school is definitely a family-oriented school,” offers Laurel. “I have such wonderful co-workers and enjoy connecting with other staff and faculty. We’ve become a tight-knit family.”


Laurel has recently taken that sense of family a few miles down the road to SJVC’s Santa Maria campus where she will continue to represent the college with the same wisdom and heart she brought to her original position.


“I moved to Santa Maria because I want a growth opportunity to move up in the school,” she says. “I do really well when I’m always learning and have new challenges. I feel like I have a Jack-of-all-trades kind of thing and want to pull all of those parts into play.”


Laurel may not know exactly what her next role will be, but she is certain she is finally on the right path to achieve her highest career vision.

Learn More About A Career In Medical Assisting

Whether you have always wanted to work in the medical field or you’re realizing a new passion for medicine, continue reading to learn more about what a medical assistant does, how to become one, how to choose a Medical Assisting program and California’s state-specific requirements for certification.

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