EMCC ceremony celebrates 103 healthcare grads

left to right: Jamie Parker, Brandi Newell, Pamala White, Anthony Vasquez
left to right: Jamie Parker, Brandi Newell, Pamala White, Anthony Vasquez
Jamie Parker, Aircraft Mechanic to Medical Assistant
Jamie Parker, Aircraft Mechanic to Medical Assistant

AVONDALE, Arizona – The SouthWest Skill Center at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC), one of ten Maricopa Community Colleges, recently celebrated the accomplishments of 81 students at their Spring Completion Ceremony.

The July 10th ceremony honored and recognized students receiving their Certificates of Completion in the Healthcare programs offered at EMCC. The largest cohort class was the Medical Assistant program with 27 graduates, followed by 25 in Spanish Medical Interpreter, 18 in Medical Billing and Coding, and 11 in Phlebotomy. Twenty-two students also completed the Practical Nurse program and participated in a separate pinning ceremony.

Four students were selected to speak at the Completion Ceremony based on their accomplishments: Brandi Newell representing the Phlebotomy program, Jamie Parker from the Medical Assisting program, Anthony Vasquez from the Spanish Medical Interpreter program, and Pamela White representing the Medical Billing and Coding program.

Jamie Parker recently retired from the United States Air Force after 26 years of service and was ready for another challenge. Parker, an Aircraft Maintainer, had achieved the rank of Chief Master Sergeant and oversaw the maintenance on some of the most technically complicated defense aircraft in the world, where her efforts ensured the safety of aircraft and Airmen alike.

After leaving New Mexico in 2008, Parker transferred to Luke Air Force Base (LAFB), into an advanced position that kept her in the office and away from the tactical operations she enjoyed for years. She realized she had achieved her military goals and rank, and following her diagnosis with cancer, began researching her civilian life options. After Parker was cancer-free, she was ready to find a career where she could positively impact the lives of others.

Parker decided to go back to college and learn a new skill, but was uncertain what career path could provide the hands-on challenge she desired, and still have time to devote to her family. Reflecting on her diagnostic tests at various hospitals, where sometimes a lack of caring and empathy were observed, she determined this is where she could make a difference. After visiting the Education Office at LAFB, she discovered the healthcare programs offered at EMCC and enrolled in the Medical Assistant program in October 2013.

“You have to be skilled and confident with the medical procedures you’re performing on patients,” said Parker. “But I’m looking forward to providing that personal component to make my patients feel safe, comfortable and important. I guess it’s similar to the same care I invested into my work for the safety of my aircraft and Airmen.”

Brandi Newell had the dream of becoming a nurse since she was a child. After graduating from high school, she attended EMCC for a year to begin taking her nursing prerequisites, then decided to get married and raise a family. Like many “stay at home moms,” she never regretted her decision but knew that someday she would be able to resume her education and dream of assisting patients.

Fourteen years later, Newell enrolled in the nursing program at Grand Canyon University and completed Block One of her studies. During Block Two, she experienced medical issues that sadly caused her to withdraw from the program in January 2014, but she was not going to give-up.

As she recovered, she returned to EMCC to explore other medical career options that would fit into her life and be less stressful. Newell enrolled in the Phlebotomy program at EMCC in March 2014 and five months later, is ready to take her knowledge and passion into practice.

“Since I already had some knowledge from my previous nursing education, the program was much more thorough than I had expected, and I appreciated the in-depth parts of the curriculum,” said Newell. “We learned not just ‘how and what,’ but the ‘why.’ If the blood draw is not done correctly, it could skew the results, diagnosis and treatment.”

Pamala White had achieved her desired level of seniority after 22 years as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), and was at a crossroads of deciding what she wanted to do in the next phase of her career. She enjoyed working in the medical field and had proven herself as a knowledgeable and caring practitioner, so knew she could redirect that knowledge and become a useful “bridge” between the front office, insurance companies and doctors.

During her LPN career, White learned how important the billing and coding is to the patient’s treatment, as well as providing accurate accounting receivables for medical organizations, so she begin researching educational options. The Medical Billing and Coding program at EMCC was a perfect fit. It was affordable, convenient and offered the professional, quality reputation she knew would be important in obtaining her certification and well-positioned employment.

White found that her medical knowledge and experience was helpful during the program, but said it was surprisingly intense and challenging, beyond her expectations. It was exactly what she needed to re-energize her interest and passion for a new medical career.

“There is a lot of research that goes into billing and coding, and I absolutely love it” said White. “I’ve become almost addicted to coding, and never give up until I find the answers. I’m still helping patients, but in a business capacity, which assures they are getting the right treatment and resources.” 

Anthony Vasquez came to Arizona in 2009 by way of Texas with the intent of enrolling in a motorcycle mechanic institute in Phoenix, but the tuition was extremely expensive and he needed to get a job first. He soon became a waiter at a sushi restaurant, and a couple years later, supplemented his income by taking a sales position at a car dealership.

Even though he had settled into his life here, Vasquez knew he needed to develop a solid career with lifetime potential. The motorcycle mechanic path was not as tenable as it once was, so he begin to research the idea of becoming an x-ray technician, until he discovered an interesting opportunity – the Spanish Medical Interpreter program at EMCC.

Coming from a Hispanic family, and speaking Spanish all his life, he thought that this could be a way of helping himself, while helping others.

“I knew I could become that communication ‘bridge’ between a patient and medical personnel,” said Vasquez. “So instead of repairing motorcycles, I have the opportunity to repair lives.”  

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Estrella Mountain Community College is one of the 11 colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District, one of the largest community college districts in the nation. EMCC offers academic courses leading to associate degrees, university transfer, certificates and short-term job training to more than 14,000 students annually. The flagship campus is located on Thomas and Dysart roads in Avondale and is home to the SouthWest Skill Center. Classes are also offered online and at EMCC’s Buckeye Educational Center, located in downtown Buckeye, Ariz.