Phoenix Medical Assistant Instructor Turns Tragedy Into Purpose
Jennifer Zayerz wanted a career in the medical field ever since she was 12-years-old. Growing up in New York City, her older brother Paul was serving in the U.S. Navy, and while on leave he suffered major trauma in a horrible diving accident while swimming with friends. The injuries he sustained left him a quadriplegic. As a result of that experience, she witnessed first-hand how comprehensive, compassionate patient care impacts the lives of others. It would become a driving force in her life.
“It was a nurse who saved his life – literally pulling him out of the water. It was the nurses and medical assistants who cared for him in the hospital after the accident. Those were the people who really made a difference in his life when he needed it most. Also, for me and my mom, because they taught us about what he was going through and how we would need to care for him when he got out of the hospital,” she said.
Out of this tragedy, Jennifer’s determination to work in patient care was born. She and her mother cared for Paul for more than a decade, until he passed away in 2002.
Turning Tragedy Into Purpose
Jennifer eventually moved to Arizona and it was there that her aspiration of working in the medical field started to become reality. She got a job working as a receptionist at a medical clinic in the Phoenix area. “At the time I didn’t know exactly what I would do but I was determined to work in patient care,” Jennifer said. The doctors and nurses at the clinic started to train her in patient care, and she decided to enroll in a Medical Assistant (MA) program. She attended while working full-time, and juggling the responsibilities of being a single mother at the time.
Justin Craig, Associate Director of Education at UEI College in Phoenix, was one of her instructors at the time and remembers her determination. “Jennifer was one of the best and brightest MA students I had,” he said.
After completing her MA program, Jennifer gained a lot of valuable experience with different positions over the years, including work in behavioral health, pain management, OBGYN, hospital, urgent care, and trauma environments. She also kept in touch with Justin, who was now an instructor and administrator at UEI College in Phoenix. He recruited her as an MA instructor last year.
“She has become an amazing peer as an instructor. Jennifer is very hard working and dedicated to serving students,” he said. “She takes a genuine interest in their success, and it shows.”
Passionate About Student Success
“I really love teaching at UEI. I always try to relay my personal experiences in the field to students to give them a sense of what the real world is going to be like. I take my students’ education very seriously and very personally – as if they were going to be providing care for me or any of my loved ones, because they very well could be,” Jennifer said.
“Our students are wonderful. They are mostly young people who are yearning for a meaningful career – something they can be proud of. They want to make something of themselves, and to be part of that is very rewarding and special,” Jennifer said. “I think the thing that I love most about teaching is seeing the personal growth in my students.”
“It can be intimidating for them at first, but through our culture of support and love of learning at UEI we help transform them. As they prepare to graduate, they have confidence in themselves and want to make a positive impact in the community, and for their patients,” she said. “To see how they carry themselves with that confidence – that is the most amazing feeling in the world.”
“Jennifer is a great instructor who will always go out of her way to help a student be successful,” Justin said.
Turning a Hobby into Helping Others
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Jennifer turned her hobby and love of sewing into something meaningful: making masks for people in the community.
“At the start of COVID, I started making masks for me and my family. I made a few for students who were going to externships as well, and it just sort of took off from there,” Jennifer said.
When she learned about nursing home residents being among the most vulnerable to the virus, she engaged her husband to help and they made over 200 masks for a nursing home in their neighborhood in Surprise, Arizona.
“I like to sew and enjoy it, so it became a way to give back to the community,” she said.
Together they’ve made hundreds of masks from colorful fabrics, including smaller sizes for children. Jennifer puts them in a box outside her home for any of her neighbors to pick up for free, using social media platforms to let people know they are available.
“Not everyone can afford to buy masks and these washable ones are a great option. I even include a pocket where an additional HEPA filter can be added for extra protection,” she said. “Masks save lives, and this is a good example of why I tell my students they need to keep informed of developments and trends in health care so they can best protect themselves, and their patients.”
“What we are doing on campus with COVID precautions reflects what it will be like for them when they go into the workforce,” she said.
Jennifer also reiterates to students that as Medical Assistants, they need to set a good example for others when it comes to personal responsibility.
“Frequent hand washing is an example of something that I’ve always stressed for students, even before the pandemic,” she said. “Wear a mask, and wear it properly. People are looking to you now that you will be in the medical field, and you have to set a good example for everyone as a health care professional.”
“Jennifer is a fantastic instructor and a stellar role model for our students. Her experience and journey to a medical career is inspirational,” said Christa Jones, Campus President at UEI College in Phoenix. “Her efforts to make masks for others is just an example of how dedicated she is to the profession, and the community. We are happy to have her as an instructor.”
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