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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Clinical Medical Assistant program changes life situation

October 19, 2020

Sandra Starling was at a place no one ever wants to find themselves: unemployed, dwindling resources and no work prospects in Clinical Medical Assistant program changes life situationsight. And at 62-years old, her situation could be more difficult to turn around.

For twenty years Sandra had been a pre-school teacher who loved her job. Suddenly she and two dozen other employees were terminated for a cause still being challenged. She hopes to get a positive resolution, but those disputes take time. And, as months then years passed, the financial crush became a more pressing issue.

“I had no money coming in and had to pull on my retirement in order to make it,” says Sandra. Even that pocket would not be enough. “I was thankful for every food bank and every food giveaway and stood in lines for hours and was not ashamed to do it.” Her unemployment insurance was long depleted, and bankruptcy only provided relief from past debts. “I surrendered my car. You learn what to get rid of and that’s just what you do. You don’t worry about material things.”

It got down to bare necessities. “I’d been living in my apartment for 21-years and because they know me, I could make small payments.” Sandra’s three adult kids, Demond, Janay and Michelle, helped her out. “One of my daughters would say, ‘Mom, I put some money on the PG&E bill’, or they’d go by the grocery store for me.” Sandra’s faith was her greatest resource. “I really had to trust God and pray hard.”

She also had to take some action before she lost what little was left.

Michelle had graduated from SJVC’s Pharmacy Technology program a year earlier and had good things to say about her experience in the program and at the Bakersfield campus. Sandra decided she would explore the possibility of going back to school for a new career direction there, as well.

She enrolled in the Clinical Medical Assisting (CMA) certificate program the same day she toured the campus. Her son and daughters were behind her all the way. “My family more or less (financially) supported me,” says Sandra. “My daughters helped me with my bills, and I was living with Demond at the time.”

She devoted all her attention to the 10-month, evening program. “It opened me up to a world that I knew about but got to explore it so differently,” says Sandra. “It showed me how you can learn about the human body and be a part of providing care for others.”

If Sandra worried about being older than most of her classmates, she quickly put that concern to rest. “It was a 40-year gap, and they don’t think like us. But they were good kids and, if I got behind on any assignment that I didn’t understand, they would help me. They would take me to eat and, more than anything, I appreciate their affection.”

It was a mutual feeling. “They would come to me for advice and wanted me to pray with them,” says Sandra. “We had a lot of good moments.”

Clinical Medical Assisting faculty was there for support, as well. “The professors did a wonderful job,” says Sandra. “They can bring new things to you and they stay on track with the courses. They helped me get my own self together.”

Sandra made the best use of this education opportunity. She made the Dean’s List and earned Perfect Attendance recognition. “I was determined to be the best, to fulfill a dream, see it through and prove to others that you can do this. I told my children and grandkids that they could not allow me to outdo them. I wanted them to have the same drive.”

Michell is a pharmacy technician, Janay is working on her degree to be a social worker and Demond went to culinary school, “his calling”, says Sandra.

Sandra is a deacon in her church, so she feels the responsibility of setting a good example for others. “I never told them (fellow parishioners about her financial situation). It wasn’t pride. I just had to be determined for myself, had to pull myself out and be an achiever.”

Sandra went to work for Kern County Medical Clinic soon after completing her CMA program and loves her new position. “I work in medical (prescription) refills. I go into patient charts and check their history to see if they’re taking this medication, check requests for refills and tell doctors if a patient has a request for medicine or needs a refill.” She works with many medical providers and hundreds of patients.

“I really like what I’m doing because at my age I really need to sit down now,” she laughs. “I don’t need to be running up and down the hallway. I have my own cubicle and it’s so much more relaxing. And it’s like I’ve stepped into a different world.” It is a world far from the edge she teetered over not so very long ago.

Her eyes are straight ahead, and she is quick to give others the benefit of her journey. “Don’t look back, look in the direction you’re going in,” she advises. “You have to really be focused and believe in yourself. And don’t look for a handout from anyone else. Keep yourself at a level that you can handle.”

Sandra walked that hard road. “I didn’t beg, I didn’t show I had a desperate need for something. I believed in myself and believed that everything I was reaching for, I would reach.”

She is right where she hoped to be. “Every day I go to work and sit in my chair, I thank God for the opportunity to be where I’m at. I was blessed to be part of the school and I miss it, but I don’t,” she says of the intense effort it took to complete her program. “I come home from work and think, ‘Aren’t I supposed to be doing something?’,” she laughs. “No. Just go to bed and that’s it!”

Family, faith and now a secure future. To Sandra, this is what contentment feels like.

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