Editor’s note – This article is one of a series of feature stories from Southern State Community College highlighting alumni and the specific degree programs they completed.
In 2003, Leslie Mingee was working at an assembly job and felt like she had hit a dead end.
“It made me think, ‘I can do better,’” Mingee said, “so I decided to reach out to the local community college and see what I needed to do to change my career.”
Mingee had to first obtain her general education diploma from Southern State. Then, she enrolled full-time at the college to obtain her associate’s degree in medical assisting.
Mingee said her family’s financial challenges were immense. Her husband had recently completed police academy training, which drained already thin finances, and with two children to raise, having enough money for another education proved to be too great an obstacle.
“We were both determined to do better. It was very difficult. Sometimes, you just have to swallow your pride and say, ‘You know, we don’t need all this stuff. We need a foundation to build from.’ So we focused on our education.”
Mingee said that decision put her and her husband on a trajectory for success. After qualifying for free tuition, Mingee continued full-time classes until she graduated in 2005. Even before completing school, Mingee landed a job as a medical assistant in Highland District Hospital’s hematology/oncology department. She has worked there ever since.
Rhonda Davis, program director for the medical assisting and phlebotomy programs at Southern State, said many students get jobs in the medical assisting and phlebotomy fields before they graduate. Medical assisting students can attend classes for one year and obtain the appropriate certificate, sit for a credentialing exam, and, if successful, can get a medical assisting job and finish their associate’s degree while working.
Davis said medical assisting students can get jobs as front- or back-office staff at doctor’s offices; front-office being mostly paperwork, data entry, and some medical coding and billing; back-office being blood pressure monitoring, injections and drawing blood. Medical assistants can also work in labs, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics and other outpatient facilities.
According to Davis, the program includes hands-on experience in the classroom followed by 210 hours of practicum experience in the outpatient clinical setting.
Davis said patients, physicians and nurses rely on medical assistants as an integral part of the administrative and clinical health care team.
“You get to make a difference and impact lives by caring for people,” Davis said. “If you’ve got that caring, nurturing characteristic, you can satisfy that need here.”
Another benefit of being a medical assistant are the working hours – usually daytime shifts with weekends and holidays off – leaving plenty of time for life outside of a career.
“Many of our students are parents transitioning from current employment, or from being a stay-at-home care-provider, to a very rewarding career in the health care field,” Davis said.
Coming from that background can often mean financial challenges, which Southern State is able to offset with financial aid for those who qualify. The college also has resources for non-traditional students who are returning to work after being laid off, Davis said, as well as those who are technologically challenged.
Whether it means daycare services for children or computer courses for non-traditional students seeking a degree, “We really try to accommodate our students,” Davis said.
Davis said she loves what she does. As a former medical assistant herself, Davis said she understands the benefits of that career path.
“This was a career that let me help people and be home with my kids in the evenings,” she said. “Those hours let me help others and still be a wife and a mom… Helping people get there has been very rewarding. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
Mingee said if it hadn’t been for Southern State, she would still be working a dead-end job.
“Southern State is the foundation of my career today,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for them.”
Mingee said people should never rule out college education. “Don’t think you’re not smart enough to go to college,” she said. “In my mind, college was always for the smart ones, not for people like me who dropped out of high school. But you can do anything you set your mind to.”
For more information about Southern State’s Medical Assisting Program, visit www.sscc.edu, email Rhonda Davis at email@example.com, or call 800.628.7722, ext. 2639.
David Wright is a local journalist and freelance writer.