Medical assistant student Va Leenia West has experienced her fair share of obstacles.
She has been homeless off and on for a while—living in a women’s shelter and a tent all while going to school, working and raising her young son along with her husband.
Recently the Colorado Springs family was about to move into an apartment when the person they’d been working with disappeared with their deposit, leaving them broke and feeling hopeless.
But then something good happened. The faculty and staff at Pima Medical Institute nominated her for a $5,000 scholarship. They saw what she went through each day and despite her challenges, she didn’t miss class, kept good grades and maintained a bright, positive attitude.
“She’s had an uphill climb,” said Pima Medical Institute Colorado Springs Campus Director, Tara Dailey. “She needs a chance in life. We wanted to be able to help her get that.”
So Dailey, along with other Pima Medical staff, drafted a scholarship nomination letter and sent it to the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). They wrote about how dedicated West is—about how no matter what life
throws at her, she gets back up and tries even harder.
The letter inspired those at ABHES and they decided to award West as this year’s Christopher J. Eaton Scholarship winner.
“For me, I think we look for a candidate who reminds us of Chris and his attributes,” said Mary Coughlin, ABHES Manager of Programs. “Chris always brought happiness to the people he worked with and always had a smile on his face, even during difficult times. It appears that Va Leenia approaches her life similarly and although she may be struggling, she has a positive attitude.”
The scholarship was first awarded in 2014 in honor of Eaton, an 18-year ABHES staff member who passed away in 2013. He was the organization’s associate executive director.
“Chris would bend over backwards to help schools succeed,” Coughlin said. “He believed in education and saw the positive effects it had on our member institutions and its students. I believe students like Va Leenia are why Chris believed so strongly in the ABHES mission and the importance of education.”
West and her husband have big dreams, and their educations are getting them closer each day to fulfilling them. While she completes her medical assistant certificate program, her husband is working toward becoming a physician’s assistant. They hope to work together in orthopedics once he graduates.
West will receive the scholarship during ABHES’ annual conference on Feb. 24 in Palm Springs, Calif. She admits, she’s pretty nervous.
“I’m a shy person—a little embarrassed. It’s all new to me. I hope I don’t pass out,” she said, laughing. “The scholarship will really help us,” she added. “My son, Elijah—he’s my whole world. He’s the reason I got into the medical field.”
She scouted out the schools in the area and ended up choosing Pima Medical because it felt right.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I spoke with different people at Pima Medical and I really liked it. The programs are faster and provide smaller class sizes. I went in to check it out, and when I left, I was registered for classes.”
The Medical Assistant program takes approximately nine months to complete. It trains students in various healthcare skills, such as taking vitals, advising patients on medications and treatment plans, preparing them for exams, and other important medical skills. Medical assistant graduates go on to work in doctors’ offices, hospitals and clinics.
“So far the program’s been good,” West said. “There have been a few things I’ve struggled with, but the instructors have been really helpful. When you need something you can just go talk to them. I really love the teachers here.”
West will graduate in April.