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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Debilitating medical condition doesn’t stop career in Clinical Medical Assisting

May 19, 2020

Debilitating medical condition doesn’t stop career in Clinical Medical AssistingBy the time Erin Coughlin, a Clinical Medical Assisting graduate from SJVC Hesperia, was 10-years old she had a good grasp of medical terminology, treatments and medications for the many health conditions her mom, Valerie, endured. “She was on many medications at that time, and I knew the names, milligrams, when and how many she had to take,” she remembers. It felt natural to be so involved in her mom’s care.

She felt a lot of gratification from her ‘mother’s helper’ role. “When she was better, I knew that I had something to do with that.”

It is no wonder that Erin gravitated toward a career in health care. But it was a career choice Erin was not sure she could physically perform when at 23-years old she developed a medical condition that threatened any kind of gainful employment that involved body strength and dependability.

“I’ve been on crutches, I’ve been on a walker, I’ve been in a wheelchair,” she says of her muscular nerve condition. “Imagine you have trigger points all over your body and they spread out like a network. You ignite one and everyone else joins the party.”

Erin manages her fibromyalgia, primarily through muscle stretches, essential oils therapy and pacing the demands she makes on her body. “I’m trying to do the best I can with what I’ve been given,” she says.

In December 2018 she felt physically stable enough to enroll in SJVC’s Clinical Medical Assisting (CMA) program in Hesperia.

“I’d looked at other possibilities (medical education and training programs), but I didn’t get the same vibe,” she says. Erin did the full tour of the program and campus. “I loved the hands-on aspect and I loved how helpful the teachers would be and how very well versed they seemed to be. Seeing what medical equipment they had to use, the small class size and modules; I knew I was going to say yes after the tour was over.”

Erin threw herself into her program. “I found it very enjoyable. It was difficult, yes, but it was worth every bit of it, by far.”

But sometimes your pain threshold does not match your enthusiasm. “I took a leave of absence twice for about a month at a time,” says Erin. “Then I’d come back and pick up where I’d left off. I had to have a doctor’s note, but they (instructors) could see how it was affecting me, as well. They knew my situation and were very understanding.”

In fact, Erin found a level of empathy and support that surprised her. “Miss White was an instructor for a few different classes. She was like a mom to me when I really needed it. She was very real with me, especially when I needed something in my studies. It was amazing to have worked with her and I was blessed to have had her there. She was everything that I needed.”

Still, it was a struggle. “It was definitely not academic so much as it was timing,” says Erin. “Not meeting deadlines (for class assignments); most of the time I had to take the hit and just work to do better.”

Erin’s dad, Patrick, sums it up best for her. “He always tells me, ‘There’s no quit in you’.”

There was a lot at stake. “Knowing that I was actually doing something and not just wasting my life away,” was the best thing about the CMA program for Erin. And, she enjoyed the social aspect of student life. “I made friends,” she says. “I would go to school early and study with classmates. I didn’t really expect friendships, but I’m very outgoing so it’s not really a surprise.”

There were lots of moments of shared laughter, as she and fellow classmates practiced medical procedures on each other. To test for mononucleosis, they had to swab the back of each other’s throat with very large Q-tips. “Well, not everybody has the best gag reflex,” Erin offers. It made for a little embarrassment and a lot of laughter.

Erin completed her CMA program in December and is scheduled to take the exam for certification at the end of March. She knows that accomplishment will give her resume the weight it needs to open some important career doors.

“I expect to be taking care of patients and helping a doctor’s office in whatever way they need,” she says.

Erin has an interest that keeps her eyes and spirits lifted. “I love to sing,” she says. “I’ve performed in public – mostly for school or church – since I was around twelve.” Her favorite part of performing is “Just the way it makes other people feel.”

Erin sings when she is feeling challenged, and this last year has held a lot of those. “I just burst out in song,” she laughs.

Her go-to, feel-good song? “It’s Bring Me to Life, by Evanescence,” she says. There is a lyric in that song that surely propels her forward: “Got to open my eyes to everything.”

Sing it Erin; sing it loud, sing it proud.

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