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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Clinical Medical Assisting and other Allied Health programs benefit from home-grown alumnus

March 30, 2021

Clinical Medical Assisting and other Allied Health programs benefit from home-grown alumnus2Ten years ago, when Stephanie Rutherford was a student in SJVC’s Clinical Medical Assisting (CMA) program, the Division Manager saw a spark in her that might ignite others to follow their own dreams of a career in health care. “She asked me if I had ever thought about being a teacher,” Stephanie remembers. Her knee-jerk response was, “No, no one would ever listen to me.” Two years later she was back on the Hesperia campus and in the Medical Assisting program classroom….as a new faculty member.

Stephanie had prior experience in other health care programs for treating both animals and humans and had put her most recent two years of experience to good work. “I could take my positive (work) experience and make the education experience better for my students. I could make the real world, hands-on part of it more current.” It turns out, her Medical Assisting students were more than ready to listen.

What is the ‘real world’ of the Medical Assisting role in health care?

I tell my students, ‘This is what you are going to see. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, but it’s worth it in the end.’ Students not only learn how to provide quality hands-on patient care, but how to appropriately respond to patients’ fears and feelings of uncertainty, confusion and gratitude. Developing patient trust is as important as the medical care and attention they will provide.

Just as we teach them in class, graduates will perform patient screening and care ranging from administering injections, patient education, ECGs, and front office skills like insurance verification and phone etiquette.

What appeals to you most about interacting with students?

When you see students who discover all this for themselves and you see that lightbulb flicker on…I fell in love with that. And, knowing that it is us (faculty) pushing them and being that person who doesn’t let up. To make sure they are taught their skills correctly and have the proper equipment to learn with; we give them those tools to go out and sell themselves in an interview – and succeed in their career.

You are now the Allied Health Division Manager (including the Clinical Medical Assisting program). How has this position changed your impact on the CMA program?

What I give my faculty, they give their students. If they are taken care of and supported, then they will transfer that to our students. It’s a reciprocal process, like a big circle of life. Our biggest focus is our student achievement. We want to see students finish their programs and working in the field they went to school for.

What kind of support do you give your students?

Some of our students just don’t have that strong family support system, or it just gets lost. We are there to take that place for them and support them in any way we can. Sometimes they don’t know if they’re going to make it. And I tell them, ‘You don’t get to quit that easily. We’re going to track you down; make you do this.’ It sounds more harsh than it is, but they understand ‘tough love’ and appreciate that. Then to see them graduate and have (career) success stories; that’s the reward. Their success is our success.

What advice do you give Clinical Medical Assisting students who are struggling in their programs?

When someone is discouraged, I like to remind them that this situation is temporary. Once they get to externship (on-the-job training), that’s a lot on their plate. I tell them they will have 6-7 weeks and after that, they will look back and say, ‘That wasn’t so bad.’ And it was an important experience that they can learn from. All those situations are temporary, but their career is forever.

Is there a single attribute you hope your students embody once they are installed in their Medical Assisting careers?

I tell them they are going to stand out if they have a strong work ethic. That sets you apart from everybody else. It is as important as your technical skills. Technical skills can be learned and improved on in time, but those other ethical skills, you have to have and demonstrate from the start. (Those include showing up to work on time, communicating professionally and courteously with co-workers and patients, stepping in to help beyond job expectations, respecting office standards and rules and demonstrating dependability.)

How has CoVid-19 affected SJVC programs and students’ lives?

Our students are in blended (education format) learning now with two days on campus and 2 days online. Like the world in general right now, we are just trying to get a handle on what we are all going through. Everyone’s health and safety is the most important thing and helping everyone to understand the importance of adhering to safety protocols.

Nothing is perfect, but this has also opened up a lot of opportunity for our students because many would not have been able to access higher education because of childcare, work or transportation issues. This blended format makes it possible for them.

What has best prepared you for your position as Allied Health Division Manager?

I’ve always looked up to my parents (Tom and Christine) who were always pushing, just striving for something better. Those are the same seeds I want to plant in our students and faculty.

I still kind of have that ‘What do I want to be when I grow up’ and want to come into my own in my position. I want to make sure our programs are successful and that we build upon our very solid base.

How do you replenish your own drive and energy?

I just got married last year to my husband Fesili, and we have a blended family with 8 kids. We’re always doing something with the family. Kids are so resilient. They fight and bicker, then come back together a few minutes later, back to doing what they were doing before. It’s really cool to see. You don’t have to be blood to be family.

Stephanie brings that definition of ‘family’ to work with her every day.

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