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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Going from fast food to Medical Office Administration career required family effort

October 26, 2017

Hanford Medical Office graduate Julianna UnderwoodJulianna Underwood was 24 years old and had only known work in the fast-food industry when she found herself divorced and trying to provide for her baby, Isaac. Her earning potential and unpredictable work hours forced her to toward a huge decision about going back to school as a way to make a comfortable life for her son.

“My plan was to get a degree or certification, get my foot in the door to work, and find the first job that would give me medical insurance benefits for my son,” says Julianna.

Her mom Tammy had graduated from SJVC’s Medical Assisting program 10 years earlier, but Julianna wasn’t comfortable with needles and the medical side of patient care. “My mom loved the school, but I didn’t want to do anything that had to do with health care,” she says. “But I had never even thought about the business side of it. So, I chose the Medical Office Administration program because I just needed to pick something.”

She may have made the decision half-heartedly, but Julianna soon realized her career choice was a perfect fit. “I found myself really enjoying classes. I loved coding – my favorite part – and medical terminology. I thought I would just go through the motions to get a good job, but realized this will open up doors for me because there are so many things you can do with it.”

Julianna got lucky with a career match. Unfortunately, a lot of bad luck lay ahead.

During a contentious divorce and custody struggle, Julianna and Isaac were staying with her sister and her husband and two children. Julianna had no transportation and was sleeping on their couch. That should have been hardship enough. But as she was enrolling in the Medical Office Administration program, her sister’s house flooded. They all squeezed into a hotel with barely enough space for the six of them.

“I don’t know what I would have done without my family,” says Julianne. “Her parents, Tammy and Daniel, were helping all they could, too. “They made sure I had a way to school and got me in time to pick up my son. Mom worked full time and would take care of Isaac at night if I had a lot of homework. Dad would tell me how proud he was of me and that I was smart.”

Her parents discouraged her from taking any part-time jobs so that she could focus on her program. “They didn’t want me to fall behind in school,” says Julianna.

Julianna thrived in the classroom. “While attending the SJVC Hanford campus, Julianna maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA and 96% attendance, overall,” says Kerrie Liles, Dean of Student Services.

Julianna found the same kind of support on campus that she found at home. “The teachers are the best thing about the program,” she says. “It surprised me how personable they get with the students, and give out their personal cell numbers to use if you have any questions.”

She also enjoyed the classroom dynamic. “Because classes are small they are kind of homey, like its own little family and support group,” says Julianna. “You can make friends and text each other about homework.”

Julianna surprised herself with what she was able to accomplish academically. “I’ve been known to quit, just drop out of things,” she acknowledges. “I dropped out of community college three times. I got so bored with the classes. It just didn’t excite me.”

This time was very different. “I loved that this program was so fast-paced,” says Julianna. “Once I learned something, I was ready to move on; and these classes weren’t long and dragged out. I felt like I was making progress every day.”

Her motivation had also shifted. “I had so many people counting on me – my son, for sure. And my family was struggling to support me to get through this. I can see the heavy emotional and financial burden on them, although it’s nothing they’ve blamed me for. My sister didn’t have room for me, but they made room. They didn’t have privacy. It’s hard to see how much they have had to struggle because of that.”

Julianna really had no other way to get to the other side of her career hopes and dreams. “I also knew that this is what was going to support my son. I want him to have that better life.”

Just before Julianna’s externship, Dean Liles told her about the Sue Fleming Memorial Scholarship that would award $3,000 toward a student’s education. Julianna was among the 17 students who applied. Criteria for award consideration included applicant’s financial need, education goals and the reason for career choice.

Julianna got the call from Dean Liles while she was at her extern site. She would receive the scholarship!

“Each year, the California Association of Private Postsecondary School recognizes top-achieving college students by awarding scholarships,” says Dean Liles. “On September 19th, the Hanford campus came together to celebrate the accomplishments of one of their own students as she was awarded the Sue Fleming Memorial Scholarship.”

“I didn’t think I was going to get it, so I basically told my whole story,” says Julianna. It was a story that won the hearts and support of the awards committee.

A career decision born of immediate need instead of lifelong yearning has proven every bit as effective for this Medical Office Administration graduate. It may have started out as a blind date, but it became true love for Julianna.

Her success has inspired her to reach even higher, as she lays plans to extend her education into the business side of the medical field she has embraced.

As always, she will find the support she needs all around her.

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