Dedicated Medical Assisting instructor to celebrate 25 years at SJVC Visalia
In February this year, Sujana De Almeida will enjoy a career milestone that might invite a long look back. It was 1990 when she joined SJVC’s Medical Assisting (MA) program faculty, and except for a year with a School Readiness program in 1999, it will be a very full 25 years with the Visalia campus.
She had graduated from the Visalia campus’ MA certificate program in 1986 and had immediately gone to work at the Visalia Walk-In Clinic as a Registered Medical Assistant.
“I loved my job, enjoyed working with the docs at the clinic, as well as all the patients,” says Sujana. Four years flew past. Then, an unlikely thing happened.
SJVC founder Shirley Perry walked in to the clinic one day and noticed the SJVC pin on Sujana’s uniform. Mrs. Perry asked Sujana if she was a graduate and, when she realized that she was, asked her several more questions about her past and present careers. Mrs. Perry was especially impressed with the fact that Sujana had taught for 10 years in her native country of India. In the end, Mrs. Perry encouraged Sujana to “come back to the college and teach.”
This chance encounter changed the trajectory of Sujana’s life work. “I have no regrets,” says Sujana. “I believe that teaching is my calling, and I am passionate about what I do.”
As a young girl, Sujana had a budding interest in medicine and thought she might, one day, be a doctor or surgeon. “My older brother, Viganna, was in medical college, and he would bring home frogs and anesthesia and dissect them,” says Sujana. “I was fascinated by how he used to anesthetize, then dissect the frog, as I watched its beating heart.”
Her hopes for a medical career were ended by the reality of an arranged marriage, a common practice of that time. The expectation is that, over time, love would develop. But, that is not what happened. By the time Sujana was 19, she was the mother of three little girls and living with her parents, while she completed her education.
“I loved my daughters very much and actually grew up with my girls,” she says.
By 1986, Sujana and her daughters were in the U.S. and it was Viganna who persuaded her to enroll at SJVC. At long last she was able to combine her love of the medical industry with teaching in a way that fulfilled a long-held dream.
During her tenure with SJVC, Sujana has been a Clinical and Administrative Medical Assisting instructor and, twice, the Medical Assisting Program Director at the Visalia campus. Sujana started the American Medical Technologist Student Society (AMTSS) club on the Visalia campus in 1990, and is the lead advisor. The AMTSS club participates in and conducts many community services programs and services throughout the year.
“Sujana has always placed the best interest of our students at the forefront of her actions, whether in the classroom setting or through many of the community service events that she is committed to,” says Annette Austerman, Allied Health Division Manager. “Her servant’s heart and dedication positively influence her students to prepare them for a promising career in the medical field.”
Sujana has touched many lives, both academically and personally, that have passed through the doors of the Visalia campus. “Students might come from broken homes, abusive relationships or are unwed mothers struggling to raise their children and come to school,” says Sujana. She tells them, “Draw that strength from within and stay focused on your goals, no matter what.”
There are certain things she wants each student to take with them when they leave her class. “I want to give my students discipline, and I want them to have expectations of themselves and to know that they are capable of reaching high standards set for them,” says Sujana. “They have such great support here with instructors, counselors, advisors; and we provide all of these opportunities for them to succeed.”
Sujana’s favorite moments are tied to student success. Recently a student was offered a job at his extern site. “He is a single father of two and comes from an entirely different background in welding, but wanted to get his education,” says Sujana. “I told him how proud I am of him and his accomplishments.”
A sense of pride surrounds Sujana, and well it should. She and her husband of 10 years, Marcelino, enjoy the life they are creating together with children and grandchildren.
Sujana is modest in acknowledging the accolades she receives from her role as teacher, mentor and motivator. She quotes Mother Teresa: “We don’t do great things, but little things with great love.”
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