In October of 2020, when Maria Medina enrolled in the Medical Billing and Insurance Coding Program (MBIC Program) at UEI College in Phoenix, she was simply looking for a distraction. After what she’d been through the previous couple of years, she certainly deserved one.
Six months before enrolling at UEI, Maria was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer and given six months to live. The news was a tremendous blow to her and her five kids, ages 12 to 23, as the family was still recovering from the death of Maria’s husband, who had also battled cancer.
Needless to say, Maria had a lot on her mind and way too much time to dwell on the cards she and her children were dealt. Chemo and radiation treatments drained her physically, so she couldn’t work for several months.
“When I was going through chemo, I was driving myself crazy and I was thinking I was going to die because of my cancer,” she said. “So, I decided to go to school as a distraction … at least in the beginning.”
The more classes she took, however, the more she started to like the medical billing and insurance coding field. At the same time, she kept battling through radiation treatments which, along with surgery and chemo, starting to prove effective.
By October of 2021, not only did Maria graduate from the MBIC program at UEI College and earn a full-time position in her field, but she got even greater news: her cancer was officially in remission.
“I found out I was in remission right before graduation,” she said. “I didn’t want my kids to be orphans, and that’s all I kept thinking about through all this. I think the mind is a very powerful thing, and I think that’s why I got through it.”
FROM ‘DISTRACTION’ TO REAL CAREER POSSIBILITIES
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Maria worked as a front-end manager at Sprouts Farmers Market. As the position required her to be on her feet and mobile throughout entire shifts, she had to quit while going through treatments.
She was just too sick to work, Maria said.
“That cancer was taking so much from me physically,” she added. “So, even though I started off school because I needed a distraction, I thought what better than to change careers now. After chemo and radiation, I wanted something I could do while sitting down all day.”
Medical billing and insurance coding is a career that matched this requirement, plus it’s something she realized might one day allow her to work from home. So, she enrolled in the program at UEI, and she quickly found out it was the right move for her.
“The more I got into it, I just loved it,” Maria said. “Now, I can’t picture doing anything else.”
Things were far from smooth-sailing while she was going to school, however. Not only was the surgical drain from her cancer surgery still attached when she began school, but she had just begun three rigorous months of radiation therapy.
“I had radiation five days a week, even on the days I had school,” she said. “On my way home, I would stop for radiation. It took a lot of my energy … a lot of focus. Sometimes, every once in a while, I wouldn’t show up for class because it was a little much.”
But, Maria found a routine that worked for her, and she stuck with it. As the hybrid learning structure only required she be on campus twice a week (Monday and Wednesday), she would rest up for these sessions, then pack as much studying and training into that time as possible.
“For me to go to school on Monday, I would be in bed the whole weekend,” she said. “I would sleep so I would have the energy to go to school. Then, when I was in class those four or five hours, I would get as much work done as I could so I could have more time to rest the other three days.”
GETTING LIFE BACK IN ORDER AGAIN
Maria said all the instructors and staff at UEI College were fabulous, helpful and motivating while she made her way through the program. Her instructors, in turn, say Maria was also supportive of other students.
“Working with Maria was the best part of my career here so far,” said Randi King, Associate Instructor in the MBIC program at UEI. “She was always ahead of the class and always helping other students. Maria was an Ambassador without the title. I have never witnessed so much strength in anyone. When another student would say, ‘Oh, this is too much work,’ she would share her testimony and that would inspire her to persevere on.”
The people at her externship, Maria said – an externship she completed in a chiropractic office – were also supportive of her and her education. During the externship, however, she learned the practice had no open positions, so she focused a lot of her time on applying for full-time opportunities. She found one at a clinic that provides colonoscopy and endoscopy services.
“Maria was a great student who, despite her challenges, remained focused on her schoolwork and got good grades,” said Christa Jones, UEI Phoenix Campus President. “We all were so proud to see her graduate and even more proud to hear that she was hired upon completion of the program.”
So far, Maria said she continues to love her new career. Based on her health issues, she looks forward to one day working from a home workstation.
“When I went into medical billing and insurance coding, I chose it because I kept hearing – specifically with COVID – that more people were working from home now,” she said. “I thought that could be some to help me, even if I feel really ill. That’s still my goal. Where I am now, I’m learning a lot, and I really want to get a job in the future where I can work from home.”
In the meantime, she’s thankful for both her children, who inspired her to battle cancer with all her might, as well as UEI, which helped position her for a new career once her battle ended.
“To graduate and find out I was in remission right around the same time … of course I was thankful,” she said. “It was like, everything I had lost … it felt like my life was just getting back in order again.”