June 4th I graduated from Atlantic Technical Center with an Applied Diploma in Medical Coding & Billing. Talk about a long 10 months!! I was actually selected to be student speaker for graduation. My teacher waited until the last hour before the event to tell me there would be "a few hundred" people in attendance. Yow!! I am terrified of speaking publicly. Betcha didn't know that.
Here's my speech:
Everyone has a story. My story actually began when I was a child. My parents, like many others, wanted a better life for their children. My mother taught elementary school children who had fallen through the cracks. After a career in computers, my father also decided to become a teacher but he wanted to teach high school students. He ended up teaching data entry & programming at what was, at that time, called a vocational school. It was a common thing to see me at the school on my days out of school. These students were the ones who probably were never going to make it to a college for one reason or another. I loved seeing students learn how to do things that would help them in real life. I was so very proud of what my father did. To this day he is in touch with some of his previous students.
I graduated from high school & went off to college, got my degree & then stepped in to the real world. I wasn’t prepared. Not at all. After trying to find a job in my chosen career of secondary education, I was able to find a job teaching adult education. I found that it wasn’t what I wanted. I did eventually find, not a job, but rather a career. I was in the banking industry for 23 years until I lost my job in 2010. I was devastated – felt as if the rug had been taken right out from under my feet. My family & friends were amazingly supportive throughout this time.
By the time I was prepared to go back in to the job market, my husband of 22 years got sick. In December 2010 he had surgery that was supposed to help him get back on his feet. And when he went back, he was told he no longer had a job. But that is a whole other story. Throughout this time, our daughter was learning that the world we lived in could be a very hard place. When she came into our lives, my husband & I promised ourselves that she would want for nothing. Isn’t that what every parent wants - to give their child the world? Now instead of the world being laid at her feet she no longer was able to do the things she used to do. Not that she got every single thing that was out there but the simple things were getting hard to give her.
I decided that it was time to make a change. If I wanted to be able to find a job then it was time to find a new career. I had long been interested in medical billing. In fact, back in 1998 one of my friends & I thought about leaving banking to start a business together. We looked at medical billing because we knew someone who was doing it. It was a nice dream but never happened. We were comfortable where we were.
That was the end of medical billing until Spring 2011 when I was sitting at a friend’s house enjoying a cup of coffee. We were talking & I mentioned that I was considering going back to school for medical billing. I decided then & there that it was time to take that step. I told everyone but did nothing about it because I was scared. This would be yet another change for my family. Were we up to it? I wasn’t sure so I left it alone.
As we got closer to the end of the 2011 school year, that same friend asked me if I’d finally done something about signing up for school. She was also making a change in her life & wanted me along for the ride. I had looked up medical billing & found that the career was actually medical coding & billing! There were so many options for where to go. I could take classes online at home or go to one of the post-secondary colleges. And then I remembered Broward County had a technical school system much like the system that my father had taught in when I was growing up. Over the years, I’d taken various classes at the different campuses so I knew this was a good option for me. I wanted to register for the medical coding/billing program that started in August 2011. I was afraid so my friend Lisa started the process for me. She wouldn’t let me sit back & be afraid. And so my ride began!
Going back to school at 48 years old was hard. Definitely not the easy way out of my problems! I wasn’t used to having to lug around textbooks, study for hours on end. Raise my hand to speak? I thought that was over long ago. Wear a uniform? Were they kidding? Apparently not because I’ve been wearing navy blue slack & white shirts since September. My husband & daughter have put up with having a messy house, laundry piles everywhere, household chores that kept getting put off & meals that were so far from nutritionally balanced it was scary. The take out places think they’re on speed dial & even know what we usually order!
I vividly remember my first morning in the medical coding/billing class. Our teacher spoke with us about all of the requirements and the expectations. I wasn’t sure about this and even took a few days off to think over what I was getting myself into. I am so happy that I decided to stick it out!
At Atlantic Technical Center I found so much! The teachers here have actually worked in the fields they were teaching us about. They know what we can expect once we leave the cocoon of school. They are preparing students each and every day for life in the real world.
Atlantic Technical Center is also a magnet high school. On any given day you can see high school students out in the common area. They’re laughing & studying & doing what they’re supposed to be doing. You can also see people who are in the post-secondary programs out there – laughing & studying & doing what they too are supposed to be doing. In fact, in many of the post-secondary programs, there are high school students learning right alongside the adults who have come to Atlantic Technical. It’s great to see people from all different walks of life learning together.
There are a variety of programs offered at Atlantic Technical. In the culinary arts program, the students prepare each of the meals that are served in the cafeteria. I have seen teachers right alongside students teaching everything from how to ensure the cafeteria is clean and neat to food preparation to proper serving techniques. Business administration offers students the opportunity to learn court reporting, how to become an accounting assistant, an administrative assistant or even a medical administrative specialist. Information Technology is here to stay, & Atlantic Technical is up to the challenge of preparing their students in this program to become programmers, multimedia designers or even network support specialists. Toyota Motor Sales has selected Atlantic Technical Center to be part of their technician training & education program.
And, of course, I can’t forget the wonderful programs we have in the health sciences department! Dental assisting, hemodialysis, pharmacy technician, and practical nursing are just a few. Each of these programs is taught by dedicated people who are here to guide us in our journey. These teachers are here every day before students get to campus & leave after students are long gone. They are dedicated to ensuring that students learn all that can be learned. They are dedicated to ensuring that when students go out into their externships and then the real world, the students are prepared.
Ms. Sandra Ervin along with Ms. JoAnn Smith are the medical coder/biller teachers at Atlantic Technical Center. Ms. Ervin terrified me in the beginning. I’m grateful that she knew to tell us what life is like in the real world. She made sure that we were prepared for the time when Ms. Smith would come in to teach. Ms. Smith has quite the reputation! She is strict but caring. She is honest. She kept us in line. She demanded professionalism. And when we went on field trips, I understood. She wasn’t just there to teach. She cares about the profession and wants to teach us how to be the best medical coder/billers we can be. She expected, but she gave.
My story is just starting. Again. But now my story is about teaching my daughter and her friends how to be the best that they can be. I want the children of tomorrow to know that there are options out there for them. Atlantic Technical Center is a great option. Open your eyes. Read the story of your life. Allow others to know your story.
As I walked down from the podium one of the teachers told me it was the best speech she had heard in many years. Some of my fellow graduates congratulated me & told me that my speech was inspiring. As I crossed the stage to get my diploma, each & every person standing in the line congratulated me & told me they were impressed with my speech. Considering that I was shaking while I was speaking, it felt really good to hear all the compliments.
Erin, I want you to know that life is filled with challenges. G-d willing your dad & I are raising you in a way that lets you know you will always be able to exceed them.