It was never Keshia Barnes’ idea to go back to school but once she got started at Florida Career College, her support system was not about to let her stop.
The idea to go back to school came from Keshia’s employer. She was working as a caregiver for an elderly woman and over time she got to know the woman’s daughter. One day the daughter pulled her aside and told her she needed to do something more.
“She sat me down and said ‘Listen, I love that you work here with my mom. I love my mom the way she is when you come around, but I would be being selfish if I did not tell you this is not your greatest potential,’” Keshia said. “I was like ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘I want you to go back to school so you can push yourself to the limit because this is not it.’”
It wasn’t the first time Keshia had been told this. She said her whole life people have told her she could do more if she pushed herself. Keshia was content as a caregiver, but she had recently moved to a new state and the cost of living was different than what she was used to. The idea of a career was appealing and caring for people at the end of their life was becoming more and more difficult emotionally.
A friend suggested becoming a medical assistant. A few days later, Keshia enrolled in the Medical Assistant Technician program at Florida Career College’s Tampa campus. But, a few hours after she started, she was feeling overwhelmed.
‘I KNEW MY KIDS WERE WATCHING ME‘
On the first day of class, Keshia was overwhelmed with all the technology she would have to learn, all the assignments she would have to complete and all the courses she would have to finish. At 35 years old she felt like it had been too long since she had been in a classroom.
“I was like I’m not doing this. It’s too much,” she said. “I was on a group call with the students so we could help each other once we got home. I got so overwhelmed that I just hung up the call and left the group chat. Everyone added me back to the chat and called me back up. They encouraged me to take a deep breath. We were all new, so we were all going through it together. I was still fighting them but my daughter, who is 15, said ‘If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to but if you want to do it, we all can do it with you.’, so I thought I better give it a try. I knew my kids were watching me. I had been in school for six hours and I already wanted to quit.”
Keshia took a deep breath and got back to it.
“They all rallied around her to get her to stay. After that she became the one to do that for every student after that,” said Monique Austin, Keshia’s instructor.
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‘I HAVE TO GIVE IT A SHOT‘
Keshia’s struggles didn’t end the first day. As a single mom she often worried about if attending class was keeping her from being there for her children. There were times when she was frustrated and stressed out. Many of the classmates she had started with ended up leaving the program, but Keshia stuck it out.
“It is worth it for those who complete the program. There are those who shine and go above and beyond like Keshia did,” Ms. Austin said.
“You have to be motivated,” Keshia said. “Everyone could want this for me, everyone could want me to finish and go and become something, but it means nothing if I didn’t want it just as much… Everyone had me on a pedestal I didn’t see myself on. Sometimes I still don’t see myself on it. I was like these people see this in me, I have to give it a shot and keep going and find out what they see.”
Two weeks before Keshia started her externship, the woman she had been caring for passed away. Her instructors helped her see that by becoming a medical assistant, she could have the opportunity to help extend people’s lives, rather than just caring for them at the end of it.
Keshia was able to complete her program and was hired at a facility working with geriatric patients alongside her former instructor, Ms. Austin. She plans to continue her education someday to see how far she can go.
“I think she can do much more than she gives herself credit for,” Ms. Austin said. “I’ve already spoken to her superiors and told them to watch out. She’ll be a force to be reckoned with. She will surpass what your expectations are. She doesn’t have much faith in herself but when she does, when she’s got it, she runs with it.”