“This program would open many doors and opportunities for me to move up on the train of success,” wrote Shaniya Matthews on her application to the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative’s Medical Assistant Pipeline Program in partnership with Drexel University College of Medicine. It was 2011, and Shaniya had completed Medical Assistant school and certification but couldn’t find work. Like many people early in their careers, she excitedly entered her dream career field only to find that most “entry-level” jobs expected candidates to have experience.
The 6-month long program was designed by then-WPSI Director Sheila Ireland and Sarah Steltz, who at the time was Drexel University’s Human Resources’ Workforce Development Manager. The collaboration provided Medical Assistants paid technical skills training, professional development training, mentoring by seasoned medical professionals, career development and job coaching services, and a number of job opportunities through Drexel’s College of Medicine. In 2018, Sarah would join the Skills Initiative herself to serve as Executive Director after Sheila’s departure.
“I’m not sure how the program is now, but it was very intense training! We learned clerical admin work, how to deal with irate patients. It really prepared us for anything that you can face in healthcare. I’ve been doing this for ten years and I’ve experienced a lot. I feel like I was definitely more prepared than a lot of my counterparts,” Shaniya shared.
In 2017, Shaniya took the next step in her professional development and started Delaware County Community College’s Nursing program. By this point in her career, she had transitioned to a different hospital and had gained experience in general practice and gynecology. A multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis caused her to step away from the program as she navigated the early symptoms of this chronic disease.
“[The diagnosis] really, surprisingly, gave me a lot more courage. I’m very open about it now. I’ve worked in neurology, and had patients that also have MS. They’re in pain, or in a wheelchair, thinking they’ll never walk again. Then seeing me, still working and everything, it really inspires a lot of people. Me being diagnosed with that has definitely made me more vocal. I’m more of an advocate for my patients because I can relate to them and I understand them more. It actually made me feel more comfortable with my MS,” Shaniya reflected. “I talk a lot with my patients, and I understand them more, because I am a patient. I have a disease as well. I have bad days, I have a chronic illness that I deal with and I still come to work and have a life.”
So what’s next for Shaniya’s life? She has since reenrolled and is planning to become a nurse anesthetist. “It may be hard, it may be tough, but I definitely keep it going. You gotta keep pushing.”