Five students who make up the first cohort of our Medical Assistant (MA) Training Program graduated from the program last Wednesday evening, with a dinner held at the new Rowan Medical School building in downtown Camden. There to congratulate the students, along with Camden Coalition staff, were Kris Kolluri, CEO of the Rowan University-Rutgers Camden Board of Governors; Paymon Rouhanifard, Camden City School District Superintendent; Nancy Holmes, representative of the New Jersey Education Association; and Robert Farmer, President of the Camden Education Association. Graduate Kalyk Russ-Still’s father Edward was there too. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” he said. “I’m so proud of him.”

Kris Kolluri congratulated the students on behalf of the  Rowan-Rutgers Board of Governors, and talked about coming to America at 15 with only $2,000 to his family’s name. “I only made it to where I am today,” he said, “because somebody gave me a chance.”

“This [MA program] is the single biggest investment we can make,” he continued. “We are placing our hopes and dreams in you.”

The graduates have completed the program, which includes a tuition-free accelerated course at Camden County College and a paid externship at one of the major area hospitals, but some are still studying for their certification exams. Once they complete the exam, the newly minted certified Medical Assistants will begin working in prestigious hospitals and clinics across Camden.

Rakeem Smith has completed his exam and begun working at Cooper Hospital Urban Health Institute (UHI), where he triages patients and helps the clinic’s doctors with procedures like EKGs, glucose tests, urinalysis, and injections. He loves getting to make connections with patients, facilitated by the informal Spanish lessons that the other MAs at the clinic are giving him. The MA program, he said, was a good way to get his foot in the door of the health care world; his ultimate goal is to become a nurse or physician in Neurology.

All of the students talked about how challenging the program was, but Mytesha Powell had the added challenge of becoming pregnant soon after starting the program. “I had morning sickness every day and morning classes every day,” she said. “Some days I just wanted to go back to sleep, but Rakeem pushed me to keep going.” She and Rakeem now have a beautiful baby boy, also named Rakeem. Soon Mytesha will start working in an office a floor away from Rakeem at UHI. “Maybe we’ll get to have lunch together,” she said.

For Kama Jean-Juste, the hardest part of the program wasn’t exactly the work, but that he couldn’t always be in the clinic. “I liked the beginning part of the program when we got to go to different hospitals and get hands on experience,” he said. “I just wanted to be out in the field. Sitting in class for six months was brutal.” Kama has been working at Project H.O.P.E., and wants to eventually become a neuropsychologist. Why? “I just love the brain.”

When asked if she had advice for future program cohorts, Elizabeth Cruz, who wants to be a doctor in Ob/Gyn one day, said, “Put your everything into this program. If you’re in, you’re in. Don’t rush things.”

Kama added jokingly, “Once you’re an MA, don’t panic. The craziest patient you have, you’re just an MA. The doctor is the one who really has to deal with them.”

The MA training program is coordinated by the Camden Coalition and funded by the Rowan-Rutgers Board of Governors, the New Jersey Education Association, and the Camden County Youth One Stop Resource Center.

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