Medical Assistant Inspired to Care for Others by Her Own Healthcare Journey
While she was a senior in high school, Maripaz Aguirre’s dentist discovered what turned out to be a benign tumor growing on her jaw. This led to a series of medical procedures and complications that, to Maripaz, seemed anything but benign.
After the tumor was initially removed, it grew back within a month. Further surgeries were performed requiring bone grafts from her rib and eventually her hip, many of which failed. In total, the tumor has led to eight surgeries (including biopsies) and three major infections.
“It was like every month,” Maripaz recalls. “I’d have surgery, everything was good, and in less than a month I’d be back in the hospital. It was my senior year, and I missed prom, graduation night … so many activities.”
And, while she struggled through this journey both physically and emotionally, it helped Maripaz solidify one important decision about her future: that after high school, she wanted to work in the medical field.
She started that journey just three months after graduating high school by enrolling in the clinical medical assistant program at U.S. Colleges in Montclair. She graduated just a few months later, during the spring of 2020.
“I had already wanted to go into the medical field. I always said I wanted to be an OB-GYN,” Maripaz said. “Seeing the nurses that helped me — the work they did and the care and detail they put into it — really helped me to know this is the direction I would go.”
Determination and Perseverance
Maripaz said her experience with all the surgeries, recoveries, complications and hospital stays made her stronger and more determined than ever to succeed in the future.
“I was 18 and I was already going through something like this?” she said. “It really made me want to do something with my life. I felt like I was a burden to my mother, and I wanted to be there to support her.”
Her mom has long had blood pressure and migraine issues, which led to some guilt as Maripaz was forced to lean on her and the rest of the family while trudging through her own medical ordeal.
So, even while she was still dealing with treatments, surgeries, infections and recoveries, Maripaz was determined to keep her education on track. She looked into the medical assistant program at U.S. Colleges, referred there by a high school friend who graduated from the school.
“[My friend] enrolled in that college and explained to me how they do things,” Maripaz said. “Just hearing how the education and training was so hands-on made me realize I wanted to go there.”
Maripaz found out quickly that her friend was accurate in her description of the program.
“I started school on a Monday, and on Tuesday we already got to learn how to do injections,” she said. “I like that I got to do it right away.”
She also liked the instruction she got from faculty member Marbella Lenahan, who she described as a teacher who was serious and strict when she needed to be, but who was also always available when students needed help.
“To me, classes were pretty easy not just because Ms. Lenehan was a great instructor, but because I loved what I was learning,” Maripaz said. “That made it easier for me to stay focused and remember what was being taught every day.”
“Maripaz was a pleasure to have in my class. She came in everyday with a positive attitude and ready to learn. She was a team player and always willing to help where needed,” Marbella said. “Maripaz graduated at the top of her class without missing school, although she had some obstacles along the way. I was so happy to hear that Maipaz had found a position she really enjoyed after she finished the program. I wish her all the success in her future endeavors.”
Recovering and Working Full-Time
Toward the end of her program with U.S. Colleges, Maripaz took an externship with Concentra, a health care company that offers family and urgent care as well as testing and screenings. While the center manager loved her work ethic and attention to detail, Maripaz said the site simply didn’t have a full-time position for her once the externship ended.
However, the manager did the next best thing: she put in a good word for Maripaz at another Concentra clinic in Chino, and this led to her first medical assistant job outside of school. She’s now worked at Concentra more than a year.
“I was surprised because [the center manager] didn’t say she was sending my information over to that clinic. She just did it.” Maripaz said. “She said I was highly recommended for the job. I was still going through medical problems at the time, but still, a couple weeks later they called me with an offer.”
“When I first met with Maripaz to discuss her externship, I was very impressed by her work ethic and professionalism. She was super sweet and a bit soft spoken, but she knew what she wanted and was willing to put in the work to get there,” said Sherri Castro, Career Services Specialist at the Montclair campus. “She was very proactive during the externship process and took initiative when it came to the on-boarding process. I wasn’t shocked to hear that her extern site manager put in a good word for her to be hired on at a different location. Maripaz is a true representation of perseverance and overcoming obstacles. I am so incredibly proud of her and her success!”
Maripaz had her latest surgery last May, which involved yet another bone graft, this time from her hip. That surgery appears to have been successful, and since she’s recovered, Maripaz hasn’t experienced any complications.
This has allowed her to focus on her family and her career. She said she’s currently found a home at Concentra but hopes to save up enough money to start nursing school at some point down the road. After that, she’d still like to work in the OB-GYN field.
“I love babies, and I want to help out with babies,” she said. “I want to deliver babies to help them and their mothers. It’s a beautiful thing to see the birth of a new life.”