Heather Listiak, 30, is from San Manuel, Arizona. She finished the Medical Assisting program  at the Tucson campus in June 2016; last month she walked the stage with her graduating class. Heather, a mom of three, started her health care career as an in-home caregiver 10 years ago. Caregiving was the best option for her because, at the time, going back to school just wasn’t possible.
“I wanted to get into the medical field, but I lived so far away from a city with a college. I was also a single mom, I had my daughter when I was 18. Traveling 50 miles back and forth to college every day in Tucson just wasn’t going to work with a baby. I wanted to work in health care, so I took the best opportunity I could get in the town where I lived.”
Heather worked as a caregiver for about eight years; it was a job she really enjoyed.
“I was a DCW – Direct Care Worker. I had some lovely, just wonderful, clients. I helped them with personal care, just regular daily activities around the house. I mostly helped the elderly, but there were some younger people too. I lived in a small town of 4,300 people, no local grocery store, nothing; there were lots of people who needed help.”
Heather’s family continued to grow; in addition to her daughter Gabby she has two sons, the first – Eugene – arrived in 2009, and in May 2015, Nolan came along. It was at that point she decided to make a change in her life; she moved to Tucson with her three children.
“My children’s dad decided to go a different route in life and do things you shouldn’t do, things I couldn’t agree with. I couldn’t live that life. He’s actually incarcerated right now following some bad decisions. So I moved to Tucson. I was always told by doctors that I’d meet that if I was to go to school, they would hire me! I always figured that would be a lovely thought, but I never did anything about it. Until, that is, I found the man I’m with now, Edward.”
One day last summer, just a couple of weeks after arriving in Tucson, Edward and Heather were driving when Carrington called her. They’d first called a few months earlier, just before she had baby Nolan, which obviously wasn’t the right time for her to go back to school.
“So the phone rang and Edward was like, ‘why don’t you answer it?’ I said ‘I’m too old to go back to school’. He told me I needed to answer the darn phone! Anyway, I ignored the call and thought to myself that if they call back I’ll answer. The next day they called again, so I answered, it was Monique, an Enrollment Advisor.”
Heather took a campus tour the next day. Before doing a quick Google search, she didn’t even know where the campus was located…turns out it was just a mile away from their home. Fate? Maybe!
“I took the tour to see if it would be a good fit for me, which it was, then I took the test. It’s just a general education test to see where you stand. I was really nervous as I’d been out of school for quite some time; I failed the test by two points which was really disappointing. Monique told me not to worry and come back the next day. So the next day I come back much more relaxed, I took the test again and I aced it by six points!”
No Time For Second Thoughts
Heather would start school just a month later! She’d only been in Tucson for 6 weeks before she started classes, so it all happened quickly. In fact her baby was only three months old at the time, so it took some planning! But what about overcoming her first thought about being too old for school?
“As soon as I walked in the door I saw people of all ages. There’s no age limit to wanting to improve your life! It’s not just kids out of high school, you’re with everybody. As soon as I walked in and saw the other students, I knew right then it was going to be great. The only thing had to worry about was doing the work and getting the grades.”
Like many who have thought about going back to school, she did have some reservations about fitting in.
“I’m an only child. I grew up with my mother, my uncle, and my grandpa – that’s about it. My grandpa passed when I was 12, then it was always just me, my mom, my uncle and, of course, my children until I met Edward and his family. But let me tell you, when you walk through that Carrington College door you feel like family, you feel home.
I don’t know how else to explain it other than they just make you feel so welcome; everybody is so friendly, nobody judges you for what you’ve been through. All they want to do is see you succeed.”
Heather’s children are now aged 11, 7, and 18 months, and she has 15 year old step-daughter Santtana.
“My children are so proud of me. Along with Edward, they’d encourage me every day, telling me that ‘I’ve got this!’ My daughter Gabby would write me letters and stick them in my backpack. Every other day there’d be a letter in my bag pushing me to go farther and do better than I ever expected of myself.”
Journey of Self Discovery
Everybody seems to discover something about themselves when they go back to school. For Heather it was truly life-changing, it was so much more than discovering she could still study or pass tests.
“I learned who I was. I found myself as a person, as a mother, as a friend, as a student, as everything you could imagine. I discovered who I am and that this is where I want to be. I felt wanted and appreciated, I felt beautiful. I made so many friends that I’m still in touch with today. I was surrounded by good, wholehearted, genuine people.”
Heather worked nights as a caregiver during the program; she helped a quadriplegic and a paralyzed girl. It was quite the schedule, although she did have to give up the job when she started her externship.
“I would get up, get the kids ready and off to school. I’d get to campus about 9.30am for class at 10am. I’d get out at 2pm, I’d go grab the baby, get dinner made, and go to work.”
The Medical Assisting certificate program takes about nine months, but for many a schedule like that would be daunting. But juggling school with children, a job, a new man, and a new home, was a challenge Heather rose to meet.
“There was never a time I thought I couldn’t do it. But there were times when I thought to myself ‘oh my, what did I do?’ After just three weeks of school we had a mid-term! I had no idea that it was going to be that in-depth and that intense. It’s not that it’s hard, but it is very intense.
But if you show up on time every day, if you’re well prepared and push yourself, you’re going to be okay. The first six weeks were rough – the first term is the hardest, but you get through it. After that you realize that if you give it your all, you will succeed.”
Having the passion for what you do makes a challenge easier. Heather is passionate about her job, patients, career, and family. That passion has helped her take her life in a new, exciting direction.
“I was told growing up that if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Every day when I wake up to go to work, or even when I was going to school, it never felt like I was going anywhere I didn’t want to be. I knew that if I pushed myself to do my best, I was going to succeed. I LOVE my job! You’re not always going to have the best patients, but you still push through it. If I can turn a frown upside down, I know I’ve done something good that day. I love my life. I love waking up every day and doing what I do.”
Living the Dream
Heather now works at Banner University Medicine Multispecialty Clinic in Tucson. She works mainly with hand surgeons and neurologists, as well as doing a little in orthopedics. The clinic is where Heather did her Carrington externship.
“My externship gave me a taste for it. I was told that if I gave it a little time, they’d have a position for me. I was actually offered two positions before I started with Banner on August 1st. It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t want those jobs, but I knew what I had coming and I knew that was where I wanted to be.”
The timing worked out great for Heather. Between finishing her externship in early June and starting the job on August 1st, she got to spend the summer with the children.
“I had a good month and half with the kids which was wonderful after the intensity of the program, especially as I was going to start a full-time position. It was nice to be able to spend time with them and just be ‘mom’ again for a while.”
A Future RN
For the next few years, Heather is super-happy to be the best medical assistant she can be. But in time, maybe five years, she wants to go back to school so she can move her career forward again.
“Right now I’m good with medical assisting. But eventually, when the kids get a little older, I want to become a registered nurse. After 8 years as a caregiver, and now with my medical assisting education and the experience I’ll get, I think I’ll have a lot of the basic knowledge. It will still be a challenge because there are a lot of different things to learn, but it’s what I want to do. I want to be an RN.
So what advice does Heather have for people of any age thinking about going back to school?
“You’re never too old. That’s the way I look at things now. When I went to Carrington I was worried about being too old, but I passed with a 4.0 and perfect attendance. How did I do it? It was with the help of everybody at home, and my perseverance to want to be the best I could be.”