When Araceli Pelayo Garcia’s dad got sick from contracting COVID-19 virus, his challenges didn’t end with the illness alone.
A proud Hispanic man who speaks little English, her dad struggled to understand even the most basic information and advice his doctors were giving him, an experience that eventually motivated Araceli to make an important life choice.
“My dad was really sick and he wasn’t really understanding what the doctors were telling him,” said Araceli, who is bilingual. “To see someone in my family struggling like that and not knowing what’s going on, it really pushed me to join the medical field.”
Araceli, 22, said she has always had an interest in working in the medical field but just wasn’t sure where to start. Instead, she enrolled in cosmetology school soon after high school so she could develop some marketable skills. The school, however, shut down during the pandemic.
This shutdown, coupled with the ordeal her father experienced during his illness, ultimately motivated Araceli to pursue the medical field in earnest. On the advice of a neighbor, she contacted UEI College in Sacramento, where she enrolled in the Medical Assistant program starting in the spring of 2021.
Today, Araceli is already working as a full-time medical assistant at a hematology and oncology clinic, the same site at which she completed her externship. She earned this position after graduating from UEI’s Medical Assistant program with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
And, perhaps more importantly, she’s taken on the critical role she found lacking with the medical team who treated her father months ago: empathetic language translator.
“I’m the only one in my office right now who speaks Spanish,” she said. “With Spanish-speaking patients, you can see the look of relief on their faces right away when I speak to them in Spanish. I’ve had a patient who told me he can’t always bring his daughter to translate, so he’s nervous sometimes to come in the office because he doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s a relief to know I work there and can always help him.”
STRIVING TO FULFILL A LIFELONG DREAM
When Araceli was in cosmetology school, the shutdown proved to be a big eye-opener for her.
“That’s when I realized I don’t want to be stuck in a career where if something happens, like another pandemic, I don’t want to be out of a job,” she said.
It also forced her to reevaluate her decision to go to the school in the first place, especially when her real desire was to work in healthcare.
“I had always thought about being in the medical field. I just didn’t know where to start,” Araceli said. “Even while I was in cosmetology, I still wasn’t enjoying it. It didn’t seem like something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Then, her dad got sick with COVID, and her determination around earning a career in the medical field solidified. And, when she first visited UEI College’s Sacramento campus, Araceli knew she had found the ideal place to prepare and train for her new career.
Despite being a little intimidated at first, she said she settled into her classes pretty quickly thanks to the support of both instructors and students. Medical assistant instructor Nicole Henry, in particular, stood out as someone Araceli relied on when she needed a little extra help.
“Ms. Nicole has just always been available for her students,” she said. “You can text her outside of class if you’re having trouble with homework or an assignment. One week, I was having problems at home and I told her I may not be able to come in. She said that if it’s too much to come in that week, she would give me one-on-one time on Friday so I don’t fall behind.”
“Araceli is the definition of a first-generation immigrant with perseverance. She did not let her struggles and pain foreshadow her goals with completing her Medical Assistant program,” Nicole said. “With her positive nature, she continued to strive to reach her full potential during her time here at UEI. She is an eager learner and enjoyed school, always conducting herself with professionalism and kindness. Her passion to serve others was and is a powerful force. I am very proud of her and know she will continue to do great things.”
FROM EDUCATION TO EXPERIENCE TO FULL-TIME CAREER
Despite her previous school experience where she did not get good grades, Araceli earned A’s and made the honor roll after each class at UEI. When it came time to begin her externship, she was placed at a hematology and oncology practice, where again she found support from another student.
“I was really nervous because it was the first time I would be placed in the field and hands-on with the patients,” Araceli said. “But, I found out there was another UEI extern there, and they walked me through everything and it turned out to be real easy. I liked that experience a lot.”
The clinic must have liked her, too, because about a week before the externship ended, the supervisor pulled Araceli aside to offer her a full-time job as a medical assistant – an offer Araceli quickly accepted.
“The supervisor liked the way I worked and said she would like me there for a full-time position,” she said.
After just over a month into her new career, Araceli said she still really enjoys the job. It’s one she would like to keep for another two or three years, gaining as much experience as she can before continuing her education in order to advance in the healthcare field.
“I plan on going back to school for imaging tech,” she said. “I’ve noticed that it’s more high in demand, and I thought it would be easier for me to find a job in imaging tech. Plus, it’s the kind of stuff I love.”