Felicia Thomas Finished her Associate’s Degree Last Year and was Promoted to Program Director in the Medical Assisting Program at the San Leandro Campus!

Felicia Smith Felicia Thomas is a Medical Assisting graduate and instructor at the Carrington San Leandro campus. She finished her Associate’s Degree last year and was promoted to Program Director in the Medical Assisting program after more than 26 years in the field. Felicia has overcome many struggles and brought growth, support resources, leadership, and community involvement to her work at Carrington. Felicia talked to us about   

Tell us a little about yourself. 

I’m a church girl. I’m an evangelist missionary in my church. I’m a craftaholic. I love crafting, I love sewing. I love just doing anything with my hands. I love cooking. I have four beautiful children, all girls, and I have three beautiful grandchildren, but I also have bonus children. I have two bonus daughters and two bonus sons. I don’t say stepdaughters or stepsons, because it sounds so impersonal. But I say bonus, because they’re bonuses in my life, and I have a ton of bonus grandchildren.  I’ve been at Carrington for five years and some change. I started in October of 2016. I am an alumni of Western Career College; I started here in January of 1996. I actually know the exact date that I started, it was January 6th, 1996. I remember that date specifically because my mom passed away January 4th, 1994. The marriage that I was in at the time was not such a great marriage, and I felt I needed to do something with my life. I was watching a commercial and I thought, “You know what? I’m just going to get up and go.” So, I came here to Western Career College and I began my journey as a medical assistant. I feel like I owed it to myself and my mom and my dad, because my dad passed away two months after my mom did. They both supported me. My dad was a blue collar worker. He fought in World War II and he was drafted into the Army when he was a little young man, he had as much as a sixth grade education. When he got out of the Army, he worked for the Oakland Housing Authority, which didn’t pay a lot of money, but my dad made sure that I went to a very prestigious high school here in the Bay Area. I graduated from Bishop O’Dowd High School, and it was very expensive to go there at that time, but my dad made sure I went. I didn’t really do anything with my education after high school, to their expectations or to mine, so I owed it to myself and my parents. That’s when I started my journey back in education, and I’ve been working ever since.  I got a 4.0 GPA while I was here, I got the perfect attendance award. I’ve worked in OB/GYN, oncology, urology. I’ve worked as a unit secretary in management, in nutrition, urgent care, pediatrics, the stroke unit. I’ve worked in a lot of areas here. I managed an OB/GYN clinic, and then I started teaching in 2009 and I have not regretted a day of teaching. I love the students, I love to train the young people to obtain a career in a place where I have loved being, I love to laugh.   

Was there anything that drew you to medical assisting specifically? Why did you decide to pursue that career? 

I’ve always wanted to work as a nurse. At one point in my life I went to school for Medical Assisting, but I couldn’t finish it, because at the time I was pregnant and I got into a car accident with my oldest daughter and it left me not able to finish the program. So I had pursued it and started it, I just needed to finish it.   

When did you decide to transition to become an instructor in the field? 

In 2009 I was looking for another job, trying to advance in my career, and I saw an opportunity on Craigslist for a teaching position. At the time, the position said that they preferred a bachelor’s degree. I’m such a go-getter… I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, but I have the experience. So I applied for this position, interviewed, and got the position, even without the degree. My very first day at teaching, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I thought, “This is it. This is my niche, this is what I want to do. I want to teach.” I knew I wanted to teach science.    

What is the best part about working at Carrington or being the Program Director for the Medical Assisting program? 

That’s it right there. Being able to make a difference and an impact in all of these young people’s lives. To look in their faces and see myself in my mid-20s wanting to come in here and make a difference, and when I see them walking in here, they’re my future. When I see them walking here saying, “I want to make a difference in my life.” I have daughters who have had doors closed in their faces who teachers didn’t listen to and didn’t give them an opportunity, because they were so closed-minded. Just to know that I had an impact in their life and to see them evolve. They’re like little caterpillars and they’re in their cocoons, and then when I see them come out of their cocoons and then they’re these beautiful butterflies, oh, it’s just so beautiful to me, just to see them evolve, to see them come in one way and to know that I helped. I get teary-eyed… it really touches my heart, because some of them come feeling like they just have no hope and they have no future and they don’t have somebody to love them. If I can just be that one person that shows them love and that can show them that they can do it, then that’s what I want to do with these kids.   

What do you find most challenging about the work? 

The thing that’s most challenging is the students who really don’t have the support, where they feel defeated. The most challenging thing is to get them to believe in themselves. The biggest challenge is them not having the support that they really need to know that they can do this, or the support when they really are trying and they really want it, but if the young women don’t have a babysitter, or if the baby’s father is not there as a support to them, or even if their family members are not a support to them, or the young men that come in and they don’t have another strong man behind them pushing them and saying, “You can do it.” The hardest part is having to tell a student, you didn’t pass. Even with me reaching out and trying to help them as best as I can and having to fail a student, that’s one of the hardest things for me to have to do.   

What gets you through hard times? 

My faith.   

How would you describe the culture at Carrington? 

I love this place. Here at this campus, it’s a family. The PDs help one another; if I reach out to another instructor, they’re like, “Hey, yeah, here. Here’s some documents that you need.” Even just here in our building in San Leandro, it is such a family feel here. We all look out for each other. It’s a happy environment, it’s not a place where you find a lot of fighting or hatred or disgruntled employees, we really have a family culture here.   

Is there a Carrington instructor or staff member that you’d like to acknowledge? 

I love all of my coworkers. One is Melanie Ellis, she’s our vet tech. She always checks on me to see how I’m doing. Doretha Morrison, she is amazing. We work right down the hall from one another, and she always walks in every morning and greets me with a smile, and she’ll come and check on me just to say, “Hey, I know you got a bunch of students. Are you okay? Do you need anything?” In fact, she saw that I wasn’t really having a great day today and she ordered lunch, and she said, “When you’re done with your class, come and see me.” She had a whole spread of a lunch there for me. Then there’s Angel Lowe. She’s an enrollment services rep and we work together directly. She always makes sure that the medical assistant students are on point.  And of course my Dean of Academics, Molly Monahan. Going into the PD role, I don’t know what I would’ve done without Molly by my side.  

What advice would you have for students going into school and students interested in going into Medical Assisting? 

Make sure it’s something you want to do, make sure that you have time to study, stay focused. One of the things I tell my students is it’s not turn up time, it’s turn down time for nine months. Don’t give up, you can do it.   

What is next for you? 

What’s next for me is obtaining my bachelor’s degree. I obtained my associate degree while I was here during the pandemic and we were teaching online, it was crazy. I was going from teaching my students online to doing my own homework online. I was actually going through a divorce at that time . My next step is obtaining my bachelor’s degree in public health education.   

Anything you’d like to add? 

I just wanted to make sure we mentioned my mother. She was the matriarch of our family and a strong positive icon in our family, church and the community. She worked in the Oakland Public School District for over 25 years and left a strong presence there. She touched many lives and is still smiled upon and loved although she is not with us anymore. I don’t know what I would have done without her and the love she showed unconditionally daily! She was my heart and soul! She had 11 children and loved us all the same.   

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