From education to employment

My Journey From Professional Patient to Healthcare Professional

As a child and teenager, I spent so much time in hospitals and doctors’ offices that my family affectionately called me a “professional patient.” During all those visits, I learned that the attitude and empathy of the nurses and medical assistants who checked on me would make or break how I felt about my visit. Did I feel hopeful and optimistic? Or, did I feel discouraged?

Doctors made the critical decisions and diagnoses about my case, but it was the rest of the staff who kept me calm, eased my pain, and supported me. Those early formative experiences inspired me to pursue a job in healthcare because I wanted to be able to help sick people feel hopeful and optimistic in the same way the nurses and medical assistants had helped me. 

I was on my way into my early teenage years in Elkhart, Indiana. My life was pretty normal. I was a competitive cheerleader and I loved performing with my school and community theater troupes. I was so good that I earned a full scholarship to college to study musical theater. But a series of accidents set me down a different path. I managed to recover from the first injury thanks to a fantastic medical team and my own determination. I was even able to return to most of the things I loved including musical theater. The problem was that shortly after I recovered from the first injury, two successive automobile accidents left me with chronic migraines.

School was difficult for me and I couldn’t go on a regular basis. My migraines made it difficult to concentrate and remembering things was a problem. This all happened during my junior and senior years of high school. Because I needed just a few more credits to graduate, I was able to go to school every other day to finish high school. However, it would have been impossible for me to succeed at college, so I got a job in the automotive industry.

Roughly ten years later, my path changed again. Someone suggested that I look at jobs in healthcare. I had always wanted to work at a doctor’s office or hospital, but I wasn’t sure what kind of job I could get. I started looking at billing jobs, applied for a few, and was hired by Goshen Health.

I loved billing, but had always wondered about having a patient-facing job. I thought it would be great to be able to give other people the kind of care I had received as a patient. One day my employer announced they were expanding the employee education benefit and I was qualified to participate. I was very excited! I had wanted to go back to school but hadn’t qualified for additional training until that point. Goshen Health had partnered with a company called MedCerts to train existing employees to become certified clinical medical assistants. I signed up immediately.

My initial excitement turned to fear, though. I hadn’t been in school since high school — over fifteen years ago! Plus, the program was online, which was new to me. I had only used books to study before and was worried that studying online would make my headaches worse. But being able to go at my own pace seemed like it might work. My days had always been busy. I was working full-time at Goshen Health, and my son’s travel baseball was about to start so I needed school to fit into my already busy life. Additionally, when I get migraines, it can be days before I can do anything at all. With an online, self-paced program I thought I could complete each unit when it was best for me, whether that was before or during my son’s baseball games, or at night after work. 

The online format worked out well for my limited short-term memory too. I was able to pause a lesson when I needed to write down what I wanted to remember or go back to later. It was fun learning the clinical care side of healthcare after having experienced that kind of care as a patient, while also learning about the administrative responsibilities as I was also currently working as a billing specialist. 

Having the opportunity to go back to school, with the support and financial help of my employer meant the world to me. I wish all employers would think about how they can help current employees learn new skills and advance into other departments. While I was already secure and happy in my billing job, knowing my employer was investing in me and my goals made me feel valued. I’m also incredibly appreciative that they have accommodated my unique needs that sometimes limit what I can do. It speaks volumes about their commitment to employee well-being. 

In the end, everything worked out well. I’ve earned my certificate which means I can work part-time with patients and part-time in billing. Having to work around a disability is not the perfect vision I had as a teenager, but I firmly believe that there are no accidents in life – I’m on a divine path. I’m grateful for God, the dedicated nurses and medical assistants who cared for me, and my employer because they are why I am where I am today — a place where I can help other people like me to get the care they deserve.

By Stephanie Isley

Stephanie Isley works at Goshen Health part-time as a medical assistant and part-time as a billing specialist. She lives in Goshen Indiana with her husband, her 12-year-old son, and her 10-year-old dog. 

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