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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Medical Assisting program grad has strong advice: “Don’t have a backup plan!”

May 4, 2017

Visalia Medical Assisting graduate Marie ArroyoSometimes a comfy safety net is your worst enemy. Maybe it is a “good-for-now” job, or someone else covering your necessities. You can lose a lot of years by being content with just getting by.

Those who have stared at that choice will tell you that your best decisions happen when the pressure is on. That is when you realize you absolutely have to make a plan and, usually, a sacrifice in order to get to where you need to go.

That was true for Marie Arroyo, as a 19-year-old in 1985, when she enrolled in SJVC’s Medical Assisting program on the Visalia campus.

“I didn’t have a backup plan, so failing wasn’t going to be an option,” she remembers. “My parents gave me a choice: Go to school or work in the family restaurant, cooking hamburgers for the rest of my life. I knew what I didn’t want to do!”

She put her head down and never looked back.

Marie did well in her studies, but that does not mean classes were easy. “It was hard, but you have to make it your priority,” she says. “You can’t go in there thinking, ‘I’m going to try it.’ You have to go in saying, ‘This is my career, and I am going to learn.’”

She got a lot more than the medical front- and back-office information she was expecting. “I learned self-discipline,” says Marie. “That has been the one thing that has kept me employed. SJVC was strict about having a professional appearance [and] being on time. That’s 90% of what my success has been about.”

Marie was happy to share what she had learned with her fellow graduates during the speech she made at her 1987 commencement. She recently did it again during the College’s 40th-anniversary celebration this April, but from the perspective of a seasoned professional.

“Marie spoke movingly about the work ethic she learned here,” says Wendy Mendes, SJVC’s V.P. of Administration. “She considers her SJVC education as the foundation of the career she has built.”

Marie was ready to apply her newly acquired Medical Assisting skills, along with her budding self-confidence, toward her chosen career. “I had a diploma and my training,” she says. “SJVC was like a launching pad, but I had no idea at the time that I could branch off with that experience and apply for all kinds of positions.”

Marie aimed for the top when she applied for a position previously held by a Registered Nurse in a small medical practice. “They interviewed me and asked if I could do this or that,” she remembers. “I told them that I hadn’t, but I could learn anything.” She got the job.

“I’m a firm believer that sometimes you may not have all the qualifications a job requires, but you might have the best qualifications from all the people that apply,” says Marie. They may have paid her less than her predecessor, but they provided an extraordinary opportunity for her to extend her education on-the-job.

Marie worked for that group through expansions, a buy-out that became Visalia Medical Clinic and a job change, for over 20 years. She married and had two sons during these very productive years of career growth.

In 2008, she became Director of the Health and Wellness Center in Lindsay where she managed a large budget and staff of 25. Her move into administration allowed her to exercise the leadership, communication and marketing skills she had developed throughout the years. Change is always in the wind, however.

“In 2013, life handed me a challenge, which I was not prepared for,” says Marie. This event triggered a financial crisis. “I needed to supplement my income and because of my Medical Assisting skills and great resume and experience, Visalia Medical Clinic hired me back (after an 8-year absence) to work in their Quick Care, part-time.”

Working there again caused her to reflect on another important lesson she learned from an instructor at SJVC. “Never burn bridges,” says Marie. “If I ever leave a job, I want there to be nothing that would keep me from returning to that company.”

Last year, Marie became Community Relations Director for a senior care facility that offers housing, activities, therapies, supervision and medical care for those unable to live on their own. “I guide families through the transition of their loved ones from home to an assisted living environment,” says Marie. It was as though everything she had done up to this point came into full play. “I love my job; It’s such a great fit for me.”

A year ago, after just six months on her new job, Marie found out she had thyroid cancer. Once again, her medical experience and medical community relationships gave her the resources she needed to persevere. “It just felt like they were taking care of one of their own,” she says. Many of her new co-workers donated vacation time for Marie’s absences, during surgery, recovery and radiation. She will have her one-year check-up soon.

“When you’re faced with a challenge, whether it’s financial, academic or your health, you have two choices,” says Marie. “You can feel sorry for yourself, curl up and die, or you can face it head-on.”

She has some important words to share: “Nothing comes easy. If it’s easy, it’s probably not worth having. There are days you don’t want to go to work – it’s too hard. Or, you wish you had more money. Those thoughts can ruin your life. Just remember, you can change anything.”

Marie learned this the hard way. “Going into this (career education) I didn’t have a back up plan. Now I have tons of opportunities for a back up plan. Something may take away my job, but nothing can ever take away my skills.”

The only safety net worth having is the one you earn; the one you put in place.

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