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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Clinical Medical Assisting program gets creative and bolsters hybrid classrooms for students

March 2, 2021

Clinical Medical Assisting program gets creative and bolsters hybrid classrooms for studentsThe coronavirus has impacted jobs, personal interaction and the education system in ways that have stirred creativity and innovation. Several months ago, San Joaquin Valley College campuses restructured medical, business and technology programs to meet that challenge. At the pandemic’s outset there was a complete conversion to distance learning, then when it was safe to do so, a hybrid online and in-class model was created.

The Clinical Medical Assisting (CMA) program on the Rancho Mirage campus is an example of what a focus on student success outcome can design and implement. Debra Trudeau is a faculty member who was eager to take leadership reins on this new education format and delivery system.

“The first weeks were a definite adjustment, but we jumped right in and were on the phone with our students, navigating computers and lesson plans,” says Debra. “Overcoming the initial struggle probably made our students stronger.”

Students, staff and faculty got into a rhythm of online studies that carried some unexpected benefits. Students were able to balance their home life, childcare needs and other family and personal commitments with their virtual classroom instruction, homework and study times. Virtual classrooms were so accommodating that, now that strong safety precautions have been implemented on campus, a hybrid of distance learning and physical class attendance is proving very effective.

While classroom lecture, discussion and exams can be accommodated in online classrooms, hands-on procedures for the Medical Assisting program such as blood draws and venipunctures are practiced in the labs on campus under the supervision of CMA faculty.

“The human body is amazing, and I love teaching anatomy,” says Debra. “If you’re doing something interesting and you’re excited about what you teach, it trickles down and you can keep your students’ attention. I don’t just teach with PowerPoint. I use many different modes of delivery and include my students in the learning process.”

Debra has made a professional and personal commitment to the success of all her students. “I want to give them confidence and the ability to problem-solve, themselves. The nurse in me wants to fix things, but it’s important to step back and guide them to coming up with their own solutions, or they’re never going to learn those skills.”

She also makes it a point to poke fun at herself so that students can see her vulnerability. “It makes me more approachable when they see that.” That personal quality also makes her more available, more familiar. It also makes her more believable to her students. “We (faculty) are sometimes the only ones who have told them they are doing a good job.” When one of Debra’s students was going off to externship (on-the-job-experience) she remarked, “I can’t tell you how proud of you I am.” “She told me, ‘My mom has never even told me that.’” Students feel the sincerity of the support they find from staff and faculty on campus.

Debra was well prepared to be a large part of the student education and support system at SJVC’s Rancho Mirage campus. Her Bachelor’s degree in Education, a nursing license and over ten years of experience in that field, along with her teaching experience at two colleges provided a taut springboard to propel her into her current faculty position.

The irony is Debra was never terribly interested in teaching. But she was smart enough to keep an open mind. “You should always go to every interview and never close the door to an opportunity,” she says. And she has found that teaching adults is very different from teaching a classroom of minor students — whose parents are often part of the process.

“I just fell in love with teaching this age group (adults) who are here by choice,” she laughs. “And I get to teach clinical skills, so I don’t get rusty.” And she does not have to deal with super vigilant parents, like herself.

The education process intrigues and fulfills her teacher’s heart. “I just love seeing the growth; seeing them (students) come in the first day, watching them learn and grow – not just as students, but as people. We’re trying to help them become professionals so that when they go out into the workplace, they will be marketable and able to sustain their positions.”

Debra is very aware that, as adults, her students have very real struggles – especially during this time of pandemic. “Many are economically challenged right now and have some real home-life struggles,” she reflects. “Many may have lost a job or may be at risk of losing their home.” She tries to encourage them to hold onto that one thing that might turn it all around. “Once they get to their externship, they will all get jobs,” she is confident.

Debra knows first-hand what that kind of support and encouragement feels like. Her husband, John, and their three kids, Samuel (21), Jack (19) and Charlotte (16) are her at-home cheerleaders. And she is very much a hands-on parent. “I’m a helicopter with my kids, and my feeling is, we should be. If something doesn’t go right, let’s find out why. I’m not sure who decided that when someone turns eighteen, they should be able to figure things out on their own. Most kids are just not ready.” Debra brings that same principle of problem-solving things together to her classroom.

Families plant important seeds for life choices and the ways to best achieve them. Debra’s parents Eli and Lois gave her a good balance of skills and drive to chart her own course. “Dad’s got a very good sense of humor and Mom will nurture and take care of anything that has a heartbeat. I’m not as soft, but definitely a nurturer.” She draws a little firmer boundary. “If I don’t see blood or bone, you’re fine.”

Debra marshals all her resources to chart her upward trajectory at work, as well as in life. “SJVC looks at employees for their potential for growth,” she says. As part of SJVC’s Leadership Institute – Class of 2021 – Debra is on a determined path. “When a leadership role becomes available, they (SJVC) make sure we’re ready for it. In January I started to pursue my Master’s degree in higher education, which will open up more doors for me.”

Meanwhile, Debra is happily fused to the success of those students currently in her educational charge. And measurement of their success is not always dependent upon the rarified air of academic achievement. She assures her students, “At the end of the day, when you’re applying for a job, they’re not going to ask you about your GPA. You may be an A-type personality but getting a C in the class. What that employer wants is to know is that you completed the program.”

The best employees are those who are committed to their job well, communicate professionally and deserve the trust of those they serve. Simple tenets that demonstrate enormous value.

Those are the same strong elements Debra brings to her work every day.

Check out the Q&A video with Debra below.

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