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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Mid-life career jump just what the doctor ordered

November 25, 2014
SJVC Medical instructor Sandy Schiffner
SJVC Medical Assisting instructor Sandy Schiffner, pictured here with her husband Tom.

Sandy Schiffner spent almost twenty years as a Medical Assistant in an internist’s office performing pretty much the same procedures each day. She was comfortable and she was appreciated; but, she was not stimulated to use all of her medical knowledge or to grow in her profession.

“I was ready for a new venue, something with a challenge behind it,” she says. “I needed to move forward and make a change for something with more professional and personal growth.”

An important part of Sandy’s responsibilities was to train people she worked with to take patient blood pressures and give EKGs. The idea of doing this in a college environment occurred to her when SJVC’s Career Services representative approached her medical office about becoming an extern site.

She went home that night and applied online for a SJVC Clinical and Administrative Medical Assisting position and went in to the new Temecula campus the next day to “put a face to my resume and introduce myself,” she says. The woman behind the counter fielding phone calls chatted with Sandy for awhile, then called Shannon Koh, the CAMA Program Director, to the lobby with a “You’re going to want to see this.”

It was not until much later that Sandy realized that the ‘receptionist’ was, in fact, Campus Director, Robyn Whiles. “You never know who you are talking to,” laughs Sandy.

During her subsequent interview with Robyn and Shannon, Sandy shared her concern for the “lost art of communication” between medical professionals and patients. “I very much wanted to teach students how to be patient advocates; and there are so many medical offices that don’t have that anymore,” she says. They’ve lost their knack for customer service and it’s rush, rush, rush.” All were in fast agreement.

Three and a half years later Sandy is still in her element and has been recognized by students, peers and supervisors for her skill, knowledge and special connection with students. She has received the TOP Award (Temecula Outstanding Player) and the student-nominated Apple Award for Best Teacher.

“Sandy has an innate gift for teaching,” says Shannon Koh. “Students love coming to her class every day and want to do well for her. She brings energy and enthusiasm, as well as amazing practical experience for our students.”

Sandy has her own self-described “elementary style” of teaching. “I like to teach through stories and put students in situations they might have when they are actually in a medical office,” she says. “You can’t stand up there all day long and teacher-talk; you have to teach in a way they can understand and absorb.”

Students aren’t the only ones learning something important. “Working for SJVC has brought things from the back of my mind forward,” says Sandy. “The light is back on and a whole new world has opened up.”

Blood draws are a fun time in Sandy’s class. “When students first get their blood drawn, they want to faint right there,” says Sandy. “Everyone is afraid at first, but by the end of the mod, they’ve transformed into cool little blood drawers.”

When her students falter, Sandy is ready to help them face their obstacles. “I tell them, only the strong survive, and you just have to keep pushing through it. It is a temporary thing.”

Sandy understands what her students are going through and the struggles of trying to get ahead, sometimes without much help. “I was once in their shoes, a single-mom struggling, while I put myself through school. I understand their trials and tribulations,” says Sandy, whose son was only about a year old at the time and was her greatest inspiration to push forward.

She knows first-hand that you get the future you work for. “I tell them all the time, ‘life happens; what are you going to do about it.'”

“About half-way through the program you see the change in them, the personal growth,” she says. “They are in their element finally, and showing such a sense of pride.” They didn’t quit. They can do it.

Sandy gets a lot of her don’t-quit attitude from her 82-year-old grandmother, Donna. “She is never negative, always had a positive attitude, never struggled and believed that everything was always going to be OK,” says Sandy. “She has encouraged me and inspired me my entire life.”

And, that life is pretty good right now. Sandy’s son, Anthony, lives in Washington, and she and her husband, Tom, spend weekends boating, camping in the desert or at the beach, and enjoying rides on his Harley. Sandy is happy to enjoy the ride.

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