Clinical Medical Assisting program students find extraordinary support from faculty
When one of Laura Cervantez’s Clinical Medical Assisting program students in Porterville feels the stress of balancing their education responsibilities with a demanding home life, she is ready to share her own struggles of when she was a student not so many years earlier.
In 2009 she was a recently divorced mom of three young daughters and had just taken a teaching position at SJVC’s Medical Assisting program on the Hanford campus. As part of her hiring agreement Laura had to complete her Associate’s degree within the first year. She quickly satisfied that requirement and felt the momentum to continue her educational reach toward a Bachelor’s degree.
“It felt so good to have that Associate’s degree that I thought, ‘you know what…I’m going to go to a higher level’,” she remembers. But balancing a full-time instructor position and parenting responsibilities, while she stretched for that degree came at a price. “It was very hard for me to concentrate with three small children. It was difficult, but it was very well worth it.”
Laura can relate to her students’ feelings of being stretched too thin and the self-doubt those day-to-day stresses foster. Sharing her own experience of overcoming daily obstacles gives her struggling students hope. “I always try to bring up my life story and it serves them as motivation,” says Laura. “They tell me, ‘If Mrs. C. can do it, so can I.’”
Laura lives for those moments of example and encouragement she can offer to instill greater self-motivation in her students. In fact, she loves everything about grooming young minds and attitudes toward achieving their highest dreams. That is what being an instructor is all about for her.
“I always wanted to teach,” says Laura, “and I loved the medical profession because I love helping people. I was getting the best of both worlds.” Some of her students are in dire need of that spirit of generosity. But sometimes the help that is needed goes well beyond encouragement and moral support.
Laura remembers one of her previous Clinical Medical Assisting students she discovered was barely hanging on. “Academically he was at 4.0 (GPA) and nobody would have ever known that there were days he didn’t eat, that he was bathing in cold canals and going to local churches that would give him food.”
He lived in a camper without heat and every school morning he was up at 4:00 AM to catch a 5:00 AM train for the 30-minute ride to the station near the campus. This mid-40s man was trying to rebuild his life in a different direction. Completing the program to become a Medical Assistant was his way out and up.
“He was very prideful and didn’t want anyone to know his situation,” says Laura. “He told me, ‘I don’t want people to feel sorry for me; I have to get myself out of this situation….and that’s why I’m here.’”
Amazingly, he wasn’t so focused on his own day-to-day survival that he couldn’t look around and recognize the needs of others and see their own dreams occasional falter.
“He was always the motivator in class, always pushing others who didn’t have that drive,” remembers Laura. “He would take them under his wing and tell them, ‘You can do this’.” Maybe it was his way to remind himself of what was just within his own grasp.
Laura has a very hands-on teaching style that balances a relationship of trust with the independence of self-discipline. “I like establishing that relationship and want to know what boundaries are preventing them (students) from succeeding. My main focus is to earn their trust. I like to obtain their respect because if they respect me, they will most likely do what I ask them to do to be successful.”
She looks for the signs that tell her those ties have begun to take hold. “I know when I have their trust because they don’t pay me compliments – they ask me questions; they pay better attention.”
That trust and respect can come into play at the most crucial points in a student’s struggle with self-doubt and uncertainty. “I like to make them know that even when they don’t believe in themselves, I do; I believe in them. That challenges them to live up to that expectation.” They trust her until they can come back to trusting themselves.
Laura brings that simple message of hope to struggling students when they cannot quite conjure it up for themselves. “When I see a student not valuing their knowledge and their potential, I always tell them, ‘Don’t give up’ because there is an outcome, and it’s a very positive outcome.”
All three of Laura’s daughters have graduated from SJVC, one each from the Clinical Medical Assisting, Dental Assisting and Pharmacy Technology programs. One of her girls struggled with learning blood draws in her CMA program lab. “I was always brought in if someone struggled, so it was a fun moment to come to lab to help my daughter with her first blood draw.” Laura performed the procedure….on herself. “Ok, Mom, I got it,” said her daughter a little dryly. Sometimes a little drama makes a finer point.
In these twenty years at SJVC Laura has built a strong reserve of support for students to access during their times of need. She has provided encouragement, resources and sound advice based on resources she has helped to create. Perhaps it is time to share that formula for success with a wider audience.
“I would like to be given the opportunity to become a Student Dean,” says Laura. “I would leave the classroom but would work from behind the curtain and be involved with students and help them on a more personal level.”
Whatever position Laura chooses from which to spread this strong net of student support and service, she sees the results of those stop-gaps at every turn. “When I see them (students) walk across the stage at graduation, or when I go into a medical facility in Hanford and I see a student of mine; it’s very, very fulfilling.” And sometimes she hears an echo from a student who struggled greatly before making that fought-for career landing.
Her barely-hanging-on Clinical Medical Assisting student who still managed to help and inspire his fellow students reached out to Laura recently. She was glad to hear that he had found work in the medical field in another state where he had family. “He sent me a picture of his car and was doing well and loves working in the medical field,” she says.
Laura continues to be motivated by the success of her students. “It’s very, very fulfilling, I can tell you.”
Her students would undoubtedly agree.
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