• Tara and Gracie together


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How to Move Past Tragedy to a Purposeful Future

Published: December 26, 2018 | Updated: January 23, 2019

How do you turn from a career as a bookkeeper, working with cold, inanimate numbers every day, to become a medical assistant helping humans and changing lives? That’s what Charter College Medical Assistant instructor Tara Collins did, and her path there wasn’t one she planned; certainly not one she wanted.

When her daughter Gracie was born with a rare congenital heart defect called Ebstein’s anomaly, Tara went from knowing nothing about the medical field to becoming an expert. She quit her job as a bookkeeper and took on a full-time job as Gracie’s mom, caregiver and de facto nurse. And while some children born with Ebstein's anomaly can live to adulthood, Gracie wasn’t able to beat the odds. She succumbed to the disease and Tara was left devastated and in mourning.

“I sat at home for two months and did absolutely nothing,” said Tara. “My family was like, you’re in mourning, we get it, but it’s time to move on. What do you want to do with your life now? I didn’t know. But one thing I did know was that I didn’t want to be a bookkeeper anymore. I also knew that I had enjoyed taking care of Gracie. Maybe I could find a career where I could help others.”

Tara said she didn’t even know what that career would look like so she took to the internet. She googled: Medical Assistant and Charter College came up. The school’s program was only 10 months and that was probably one of its most appealing aspects to Tara.

“I wasn’t interested in some long program,” said Tara. “I was ready to get back to work. It was just going to be a different kind of work.”

While Tara went to school, she also worked as a medical receptionist at a local pain clinic, trying to “get a feel for the medical life.”

“It was great that Charter had such flexible hours so I could work part-time,” said Tara. My classes were all on campus from 9:00 to 1:30 and I could get the kids to school, get myself to school, pick them up, and still work part-time.”

Even though it was a busy schedule, Tara said it was doable. She said that she was able to learn the materials and when it came time to take her certification exam, she scored among the highest in her class. Her first Medical Assistant job was with the North Star Lodge, a cancer center in Yakima, WA.

“I’d actually approached them about an externship,” said Tara. “Even thought they’d never had an extern, they gave me the position. Then, they hired me. One day I was an extern and the next day I was an employee getting paid.”


But How Did Tara Become a Teacher?

Apparently when you do a great job at school and then at your externship and then on your job, people notice. After Tara’s work at North Star, another family illness changed her plans. Her grandmother moved in with her so Tara could provide her with in-home care. But Tara still held on to a per diem position at a local clinic. Then one of Tara’s former teachers from Charter asked her if she’d be interested in teaching part-time. It was an easy yes.

“I absolutely love it!” said Tara. “A lot of students tell me I teach a little differently and I guess they like it. I use scenarios or incidents that I’ve run across. Then I’ll ask them, ‘what would you do in this scenario.’ I like pulling from my own experience and being able to tell them: ‘this actually happened.’”

Tara said she also reminds students that they will make mistakes but it’s how they handle them that matters. She said, “you have to admit when you do something wrong and learn from it. Everyone will make a mistake at some point. Everyone will. It’s important to learn from those mistakes.”

“My inspiration was my daughter. Now I hope I inspire my students,” said Tara.

Tara said she hears from former students who are finding success in their careers and they tell her, “you helped me understand.”

“It’s a great feeling to know they’re thinking of me when they have a success,” said Tara.

If you want to learn from instructors you care about you and your success, take a close look at the Medical Assistant program at Charter College or any of our many hands-on healthcare programs. A career helping others could be your destiny.