Mother and her daughters buckle down to realize their medical career dreams
26-year-old Jonniece McFadden had no idea that when she began her Medical Assisting program last October, she would be the trigger for both her mom, Teresa Battles, and sister, Ruby Battles, to enroll in medical programs on the Temecula campus, as well.
“My mom started a month after I did because she saw how hard I was working and how excited I was,” says Jonniece. “It really motivated her to want to get into the medical field too.”
Almost a year later, 22-year-old Ruby jumped in too, when she enrolled in the Medical Office Administration degree-granting program. “It was time for me to do something, but I was kind of scared,” says Ruby. “It had been awhile since I’d picked up a book or took a test. But, if my mom can do it and my sis can do it, I can do it.”
Jonniece has been working in food service since she was fifteen and a half years old, with the last six years spent working for a manufacturing company. She has been drawn toward a medical career ever since her brother, Thomas, was temporarily paralyzed in a serious accident a few years ago. “I was interested before, but this just intensified it,” she says.
Three years ago, and just a week after her son Xzavier was born, Jonniece started classes to become a radiologist, but dropped out after a semester to focus on working hard and being a mom. She and fiancée Anthony settled into family life, and Jonniece set her medical career dreams aside.
“I was in the community college system off and on from 2008 until 2013, but it was never something that stuck,” says Jonniece. She decided to take a chance on the private junior college culture of San Joaquin Valley College. “It felt different from the get-go.”
On her first day of school, she was in a Phlebotomy class. “Ok, we’re going to poke each other with needles; it was trial by fire,” she laughs. “I was really nervous, but very excited because I really enjoy hands-on and learn a lot that way. But I was happy; it was everything they had told me when I signed up.”
Jonniece still works a lot of hours each week, and balancing her job, family and school can take its toll. “It’s been a little harder than I’d like, but I’ve maintained my 3.33 GPA,” she says. My mother-in-law Flora and Anthony give me a lot of family support.”
Even Xzavier gets into the routine of homework. “He sees me study and gets his pencil and paper and scribbles,” says Jonniece. “He sees me with my stethoscope and he knows doctors use that, so it makes him pretty calm going to the doctor. He thinks mommy is a doctor,” she laughs.
Anthony tries to pick up extra work days and overtime to lighten their financial load. “He tells me, ‘Just bring home A’s, that’s all I want.’”
“Jonniece overcame great obstacles to starting school this time around,” says Marcus Barnette, an SJVC staffer who helped her enroll. “Jonniece has shown to be an exceptional student with managing home life and being on the Dean’s List every term.”
Jonniece has a rhythm going now and plans to go all the way. “I want to be at the top of the top,” she says. RN, anesthesiologist, doctor…. “Now that I’ve figured it out, I will most definitely take it all the way.”
Now in her forties, Teresa had pretty much put away her dream to be a medical professional, and it was a hard one to let slip away. “Everyone always came to my house if they got hurt, and I would bandage them up,” she says. “It was just one of those things that came naturally.”
But then life happened and Teresa found herself working to help support the family she and her husband Thomas created. “I’d said that once I hit 40, I’d have to let that dream go,” she said. It left her mind for a few years, but never her heart.
When Jonniece shared her excitement about her Medical Assisting program, it was hard for Teresa not to be wistful about a career she, too, might have had. But Jonniece was having none of that could-have-been attitude.
“She told me, ‘Mom, it’s something that’s been wearing on your heart that you wanted to do. You know you want this; I’m doing it and you can do this!’” Jonniece’s persistent voice of encouragement finally connected with Teresa’s own inner voice. She enrolled in the Medical Assisting program and began to imagine her own career in the medical field.
It has not been easy to try to get there. “There are days I have too much on my plate and just want to give up,” says Teresa. “Just the overload of work, studying and family and trying to juggle it all.” But two things have kept her on track.
There is a chorus of voices giving support and encouragement. Thomas writes on a big chalkboard, I’m so, so proud of you!, “and reminds me that I’m really not alone in this,” says Teresa. “Jonniece tells me, ‘Mom, you’ve never been one to give up; you’ve always been the one to give support.’ Sometimes, you have to hear your own words coming back at you.”
The second source of strength comes from doing something she loves. “When I’m doing labs – injections and blood draws – I feel on top of the world,” says Teresa. “You know how everyone is nervous when they see a needle…I walk them through it and keep them calm. I feel good when I’m doing that.”
“Teresa’s perseverance has shined through,” says Marcus Barnette. “She is half-way into her program and she is still keeping a happy marriage, work and maintaining academic excellence.”
“I had almost given up on my dreams,” says Teresa. “It was something that I’ve wanted so much, then to get the support from the family and know that you’re not doing it all by yourself. That helps.”
22-year-old Ruby is not like her mom and she’s not like her sister. She does not want any part of needle poking, someone’s pain or body fluids. She is, however, very much interested in working in the medical field in a Medical Office Administration (MOA) position.
Ruby’s interest in medical coding and billing expertise brought her to SJVC’s Temecula campus where she began the degree-granting MOA program just this month (October). “I can’t draw blood – I have a weak stomach – but someone has to do the paperwork, so let me stay behind the computer,” she says.
Four years since Ruby graduated from high school found her employed in fast food and coasting along with no set date for college. Her mom and sister’s commitments to education forced her to act on her own career future. “My mom and sister going just really gave me motivation to start my own education.”
Ruby has watched the struggles her mom and sister have experienced, trying to balance their lives with school, and is ready for whatever comes her way. “I don’t have kids, so on top of going to work and paying for my bills, there’s just school. I know this year is going to fly by and I don’t care what I have to do to get it done.”
Teresa and Jonniece won’t bump into Ruby in the hallway at school because their Medical Assisting program is in the afternoons and Ruby’s Medical Office program is in the morning. They must do their catching up and classroom comparisons when their families get together.
Ruby works 30-35 hours each week, but no matter what stresses come her way, she knows she has two other people close by who can understand and share her pain. “I tell dad all the time that he won’t be allowed in the conversation because he won’t know what’s going on, or what we’re talking about,” she laughs.
“In high school, I never studied,” Ruby admits. “But right now, my personal life is gone. I’m working for my career now, so my social life can come 14 months down the road. I don’t mind not having that right now.”
There has been a definite shift in her focus. “My mom and my sister opened the door for me to come here. My mentality is different. I know this is something that will last forever.”
She is now considering going for her Bachelor’s degree. “My work ethic and motivation is good and comes from my mom and sister. Just give me a few more months and I’ll be there too.”
Teresa Battles takes a mom’s pride in her daughter’s efforts and accomplishments. “Jonniece started (her education) first, then had a baby and put it on hold. She was determined to go back. Don’t be like me and wait years and years; do it now! She said, ‘I am, I am.’”
“Ruby is very determined,” says Teresa. “She will set her mind and she will complete her task, I tell you. They still have a lot of fight in them and they are determined to get what they want out of life.”
Ruby has a slightly different point of view. “My mom is a super hero; I’m not.”
Heroism and determination are evenly spread in this family.
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