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From Receptionist to Medical Assistant: Q&A with Johnnye Baker

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Written and reported by:
By Sheila Cain
ASD Writer/Editor

It’s never too late to go back to school.

For years, Johnnye Baker, 39, worked as a receptionist in doctors’ offices. She loved working with patients, but her one-on-one contact was limited. She eventually decided to go back to school to become a medical assistant, allowing her to spend much more time directly helping patients.  

Baker earned her certificate while juggling work and parenting three kids (ages 16, 11, and 7) with her husband. If she can do it, maybe you can too!

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Johnnye Baker, 39

Medical Assistant

Why did you decide to become a medical assistant?

I’ve worked in doctors’ offices as a receptionist but always wanted to get “behind the curtain” and knew I could do more with patients. I caught on to the medical terms pretty quickly and would sometimes be asked to assist with appointments if a second [assistant] was needed. It’s a stable career and one I want to excel in, but I also want to be able to help patients feel more at ease and build relationships.

What’s your current job?

I had been working part time at a bank while I went to school, but I have worked as a receptionist at doctors’ offices and at an urgent care front desk. I recently graduated but I have to wait until this summer, when my kids are out of school, to take on a full-time position. I think I’d like to work in a dermatologist’s office or similar.

What do you think you will enjoy most about being a medical assistant?  

Having worked in medical offices in the past, I appreciate the relationships that MAs have with the patients. The MA is the patient’s first and last contact.

I always thought I wanted to be an RN, but the work is intense. I was looking for a good work-life balance that working as a medical assistant gives you.

How did you get to where you are today? What kind of support did you have?

The journey wasn’t easy. Being an adult student with a family is really hard. I missed a lot of dinners and bedtimes. It’s hard to give up your evenings when you have a family, and there were many times I’d rather have had a glass of wine than go to school. I had to push myself, but I was fortunate to have a spouse that stepped in and took on a lot of the evening duties while I was at school.

I also had a phenomenal teacher. During my education, the teacher support was amazing. They really pushed me. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.

What was one of the most challenging questions to get answered about going back to school?

I have been out of high school for a long time when I applied to go to school to become a medical assistant. I needed my high school transcripts for school the application, and I had to send my best friend from high school to get my transcripts!

What’s your motivation to keep growing in the field? 

I love the feeling of accomplishment and educating people. I also worked in health insurance for a few years, and I loved educating people in that role. I like taking the time to explain something and then seeing the light bulb go off—people will remember that light bulb moment.

What gave you the confidence to go back to school?

I just wanted to do it—and I love learning. I am a confident person, but it can still be a little nerve-wracking walking into a school; the students are very young. I ended up meeting some great people in class. There were many high school seniors, and I sort of became their class “mom”—it was really supportive.

Any advice for anyone wanting to be a medical assistant?

Be prepared to spend a lot of time studying and continuing to learn, long after you’ve left the classroom. Also, know what you like to do. I did some work in a pediatrician’s office, but quickly realized it was not for me. Know what you want to do and what kind of doctor’s office you want to be in. Be resolute in what you want to do.

What advice do you have for fellow prospective students who are on the fence about going back to school?

Give it two weeks and see how you feel. You don’t want to get into it and not finish it. If you don’t have your ducks in a row and don’t have a strong support system, work on that before you commit to starting a program. I had the backing of my family while I was in school. Also: Life throws us curve balls, but we can do hard things. Stick with it!