One day, Zakiya Thompson stopped by her aunt’s home to braid her hair, and she realized her aunt was having difficulty doing simple things around the house – things like getting out of bed, bathing, and doing various household tasks.
This realization motivated Zakiya to want to become her aunt’s caretaker, visiting her daily to help her with cooking, household chores, personal hygiene, and so on.
“I just enjoyed helping her,” Zakiya said. “I knew she needed assistance because she couldn’t really get out of bed, and that kind of bothered me. So, I reached out to her daughter and asked if it was OK to take care of her – just be her caretaker – throughout the week, and she said it was fine.”
Zakiya, in her early 20s, said she didn’t have much else going on at the time. Since she finished high school, she had done a lot of job hopping but had yet to find a stable career. So, she decided to focus her time on helping her aunt.
And, despite it being hard work, she really enjoyed doing it and took great pride in being there for a family member in need.
“Then, a friend of the family actually came up and said to me, ‘Zakiya, you’re doing all this and I can tell you like what you’re doing. Why don’t you go to school for this?’” Zakiya said. “That’s when I reached out to UEI.”
Zakiya enrolled in the Medical Assistant program at United Education Institute (UEI) in Morrow, GA. After completing her classroom and lab work, she’s proud to say she recently began her externship hours working at a local medical office.
“Once I started attending UEI in Morrow, a lot of things changed for me in how I envisioned the future,” Zakiya said. “My mindset, my appearance, and even my overall professionalism changed. I knew I wanted more for myself for a long time, and UEI gave me the opportunity I needed.”
Realizing Her Calling
Zakiya comes from a family of educators. Her grandmother was a teacher, principal and an owner of her own K-5 charter school (which Zakiya attended), and her uncle who was a P.E. teacher. So, she’s long known the value of a good education.
However, past attempts to further her education often hit roadblocks. Either financial aid didn’t work out, or something about the school just didn’t align with Zakiya’s goals.
“I definitely wanted to go to school and find a career,” she said. “I knew education was something that was in my blood, but whenever I’d look into a school, something or other just didn’t work out for me.”
Entering the workforce and finding a job she loved also proved difficult. Without specific career training, Zakiya dabbled within a variety of industries include food service, retail and warehousing.
“I got agitated in not really finding something that was going to provide stability and reliability for me,” she said. “I just wanted to find something I enjoy.”
In a lot of ways, this frustration led Zakiya to taking care of her aunt. She wanted to spend her time doing something that was useful and which made a real difference in someone’s life, and serving as her aunt’s caretaker gave her purpose. It also opened her eyes to career possibilities in the medical field.
“I did have a medical career in mind,” Zakiya said. “I just didn’t know specifically what I’d do until my friend of the family said, ‘Hey, you’re doing good at this. You should go to school and have a career and make money doing it.”
Moving Toward Career Training
Zakiya’s friend told her about UEI. The campus was actually close to her home, so she called, set up her initial appointment, and was soon enrolled in UEI’s Medical Assistant program.
“When I first started, what helped me along the way was my family,” Zakiya said. “As silly as it may sound, I recall them telling me how cute I looked in my scrubs, and it allowed me to envision myself working in a medical office once I graduated.”
Her family’s support, and that of UEI faculty and instructors, helped push her through many of the typical struggles students encounter when they begin the program: difficulty drawing blood for the first time, learning to properly and accurately take blood pressure, and so on.
Zakiya said she quickly learned perseverance, knowing that if she simply dedicated herself and kept trying, she’d gain the knowledge and confidence she needs to be success in both the program and in a future career.
“I can say that coming to open lab really brought my braveness out,” she said. “It really helped me become comfortable with the needles and pricking and things of that nature. It was rough for a while, but my teachers really stepped up and helped. I would say Ms. [Marvis] Davis and Ms. [Bashellia] Williams … those two individual ladies pushed me and encouraged me. They’re phenomenal.”
“Zakiya was a student that possessed intense desire, hunger and determination to learn, understand and achieve,” said Bashelia. “She was a student that was humble and receptive. It was my honor to encourage, enlightened, and empower her. Zakiya will bring fresh and positive energy making her a gift to any practice or establishment.”
According to Zakiya, Estoria Williams was another instructor who pushed and encouraged her when she needed it.
“I would come in some days on Friday, which is open lab, and she would sit there with me and really encourage me and help me to really stay on track,” she said. “She was very, very transparent and very honest, and that’s one thing I loved about her.”
Once she completes her externship and graduates from UEI with her Medical Assistant diploma, Zakiya said she plans to keep an open mind about her future. But, looking long-term, she can see herself continuing her medical education.
“I can say for right now, I like what I’m doing, but I also want to keep my eyes open,” she said. “I’m willing to learn anything, anywhere. I want to be flexible for anything and am willing to adapt to various environments. But in the future, I’m looking forward to getting back to school and taking an even higher step in my medical career.”