In Less Than Five Years, Medical Assisting Grad Nicole Parker Lopez Makes the Transition from Student to Teacher
When Nicole Parker Lopez gave birth to her son Eric 10 years ago, she had no way of knowing that experience would change everything about her life—including her career path.
Eric was born with a thyroid condition that sent him back to the hospital less than a month after he was born. When he was released from the hospital a week later, Nicole, a first-time mother, had to quickly master the art of administering medication to a newborn.
“I was 20 years old and I often felt overwhelmed,” recalls Nicole. “Overnight, I had to learn how to be his mom, his nurse, and his medical advocate. It was one of the most stressful, challenging times of my life. But along the way, I was also inspired to see so many capable, kind doctors and nurses in action. I knew I had the capacity to provide the same kind of compassionate, quality care my son received. I also knew it was work I‘d love and could do well.”
But for several years after Eric was born, Nicole continued in a series of jobs she didn’t love: at a deli, a discount department store, and a family entertainment center that featured children’s rides, an arcade, and miniature golf.
“I knew I was capable of so much more,” she remembers. “But I also knew I needed an education in order for that to happen.”
Nicole, who lives in Antelope, California, enrolled in Carrington’s Medical Assisting program on the Citrus Heights campus in October, 2014. She graduated with her certificate nine months later. (Carrington offers the Medical Assisting program at 16 campuses in seven states, including Arizona, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.)
After graduating, Nicole began her career doing medical data entry. She then worked for a family medical practice, a pain management facility, and an eye specialty clinic. In 2019, she sat for the National Healthcareer Association Certified Clinical Medical Assistant Certificate exam and became a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant. But by then, Nicole was already thinking about making a big career change.
“As much I love providing care to patients, one of my favorite parts of every job I’ve ever had was teaching my co-workers how to perform various tasks and procedures,” says Nicole. “The idea of educating and training others to pursue their own careers as Medical Assistants really appealed to me. I thought it would be a great next step in my career.”
Last October, Nicole landed a full-time teaching position at National Career Education in Citrus Heights, 15 miles northeast of Sacramento and just five minutes down the street from the Carrington classrooms she once attended.
“It’s been quite a first year,” says Nicole. “Until March, my classes were all in person. But when the pandemic hit, everything changed. Within weeks, we developed an online platform to provide classes via video and Zoom. It was a challenge because everyone’s home life and work life suddenly merged. Not only did my students have to balance school and work, they also needed to home school their kids and often deal with the lack of child care. For many students, it’s been a real balancing act. My husband and I have a 10-year-old, a five-year-old, and a three-year-old, so I get it.”
Nicole says the experience has taught her valuable lessons—and made her a better teacher.
“I’ve definitely learned to be more compassionate and understanding,” she says. “I’ve seen my students work so hard to overcome struggles they never anticipated, and they’ve done it with such focus and determination. Now more than ever, my job isn’t only to teach, but to encourage and remind them that they’re stronger and more capable than they realize.”
Nicole especially enjoys mentoring older students, many of whom are returning to school after decades away from the classroom.
“I always tell my students it doesn’t matter when you start, it just matters that you start,” she says. “You never know what you’re capable of unless you try. I’m living proof that’s true.”
Even though 2020 has been a tough year with plenty of unexpected twists and turns, Nicole says she’ll remember this year as the one in which she did work she loves.
“I feel like I have the best job in the world,” says Nicole. “When I was sitting in a classroom at Carrington back in 2015, I never imagined that I’d be teaching in a classroom of my own less than five years later. My experience at Carrington opened up a world of opportunities for me. I’m now doing my best to provide that same level of support and encouragement to my own students. I was well-taught by good people who cared, and that experience has definitely influenced the kind of teacher I’m becoming.”