Elizabeth Ramirez’s mother always taught her by example to work hard for the future you want, and it’s a lesson that stuck with Elizabeth when she felt lost as an adult.
She had graduated from high school, but Elizabeth was still unsure what she wanted to do with her future. In March 2022, she knew something needed to change.
“My mom always told me I needed to do something. I needed to become something in life,” she said. “At that time, I was dealing with a lot of depression. I would sleep all day. I was really depressed and had nothing going for myself. I remember seeing my mom really upset because that’s not the type of person I am. She was really worried and questioning. It made me realize this is not where I want to be. I knew I needed to do it not only for myself but for my mom.”
Elizabeth had been raised by a single mother, along with her two brothers. They had grown up living in low-income housing, often left alone because their mother was working two or three jobs.
“I grew up not in the prettiest place, but I do feel like it helped me be the person I am today,” Elizabeth said. “It motivated me more to be something and not let how I grew up or my past represent what I have in my future. I feel like a lot of people make excuses for how they grew up. I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to show my mom we can do it.”
Elizabeth’s mom has been struggling with different health problems for the past few years and the whole family has been frustrated with the care she has received. Elizabeth decided to become part of the solution and enter the medical field herself. She enrolled in the Medical Assistant program at UEI College in Phoenix.
The first few weeks were tough. Elizabeth had been out of school for almost a year and getting back into the habit was difficult.
“I remember within the first two weeks, I wanted to quit,” Elizabeth said. “I didn’t know if this was for me. It seemed like a lot of hard work. I didn’t know if I could do it. I remember telling my teacher and crying. It just felt like too much. It wasn’t really; it was all in my head. I just kept telling myself, ‘You already started, might as well finish.’ I just kept pushing. My teacher gave me some encouraging words. My mom gave me encouraging words. I kept going and I just fell in love with it.”
“At first, she came in very timid and very shy,” said Rachel Whiteside, Elizabeth’s instructor. “I told her when she first started that we were going to work on her speaking to people and being OK with speaking to people. She was an amazing student. She started right away getting straight A’s and then was motivating other students, asking questions outside of the box, was very attentive, and had a lot of knowledge about what was going on in the program. She definitely had a ton of growth in the program.”
Elizabeth isn’t sure when the shift happened, but she found herself looking forward to getting to class and learning new things.
“At first, I was just showing up and doing the work,” she said. “Over time my instructor told me I could be a leader. That was in my head, and I thought maybe I do want to be a leader. I started doing all I could to put in the hours I needed, and I became an ambassador. That really helped my confidence. I thought maybe I am the leader my instructor keeps telling me about.”
As a student ambassador, Elizabeth got the chance to get to know her classmates better and build stronger relationships. Learning from them also helped push her through the program.
“Everyone has their own stories with their own struggles or their own family,” she said. “It was cool to see I’m not the only one. There were other people who may even have it worse than me, but they were still showing up. It was very motivating to see different types of people, cultures, and stories coming together.”
Elizabeth achieved honor roll every month of the program. At graduation, she was named valedictorian for her class. The once-shy girl gave a speech to all the graduates on graduation day.
“In order to achieve something, you really have to put in the work and sacrifice,” she said. “I want to be the change and the best medical assistant that I can be. I want my patients to want to come back and to know I will help them. I want to be the light that people need.”