Wilma Smith has a vivid memory of laying on her stomach at 10 years old and peering under a door at a medical clinic in Mexico to witness the birth of her nephew. The experience has always stuck with her.
“I had so many questions,” she said. “How did the baby get in there? How did she manage to push him out of that little place? I fell in love with the whole concept of labor, delivery, and obstetrics altogether. I wanted to be an obstetrician, but money and life did not agree with my plans.”
For years, Wilma didn’t get the chance to focus on her education because she became a single mother when she was very young. She ended up working as an English teacher and at a call center. Years later, when she was laid off with 300 other employees, she finally had the chance to go for her dreams. With a quick online search, she discovered United Education Institute (UEI) in Las Vegas.
“They showed up at the moment when I could actually do it,” she said. “My kids had grown up and were out of the nest and I was able to do everything I ever wanted. They made everything so easy for me. Right then and there they sat me down with financial aid and it just happened. It was like this miracle where I was able to start studying something I really, really wanted. Maybe I wouldn’t be an obstetrician, due to my age, but I could be a good medical assistant.”
Wilma enrolled in the Medical Assistant program and never looked back.
“I thought when I began that I was too old to go back to school, but all of a sudden I became the star student,” she said. “I was on the president’s list every month. I was at 100 percent every month with my grades. I was an ambassador all of a sudden. I could hardly believe how well I was doing.”
“She was a great student,” said Angela Perez, Wilma’s instructor. “She was my ambassador. She was always willing to help students out with their work. She got 100 in every module. She turned in her work. The students I had in my labs were a lot younger, so they all just looked up to her. They wanted to be like her.”
Ms. Perez recalled one student in particular who was considering dropping from the program. As the instructor, she had a conversation with her, but it wasn’t until Wilma spoke to her that the student changed her mind.
Wilma said, as an older student, she knew the value of what was being taught.
“This is a program that is for people who want to follow dreams and think they do not have the time or have it in them to keep going,” she said. “Older students, we’ve missed opportunities in the past because we were too busy doing other things. All of a sudden, we have the opportunity to go back to school and be what we want. We do not lose time. We’re not hesitating anymore. We’re doing. Follow your dreams. If this is what you want, to be in the medical field, this is the place to go.”
Wilma was able to complete her program to become a certified medical assistant. She already has plans to continue her education to become a registered nurse.
“For years, I resented myself for not having a career,” she said. “I was just doing jobs. I did not have a career or a certificate. I did not have something in my hand that said, ‘this is what I am.’ Now I do. I have that. I feel proud of myself. I have fulfilled what I really wanted. I feel empowered. I feel that I did not fail myself and that is important to me. I feel that I was a great example not only to my children but to others that it is never too late to follow your dreams.”