head shot of Toni

Former educator starting a new career in medicine.

All her life, Antunette (Toni) Scruggs has dreamed of working in medicine, but says she just didn’t know how she would get there.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the hospital with my older sister, who had a rare form of cancer and passed away at 12 years old,” says Toni, who grew up in Bakersfield, California. And while her goal of becoming a doctor was ever-present, life turned upside down when Toni became a mother at age 19.

“I never stopped trying to continue my education and get a foot in the door with medicine, but providing for my child came first.”

A Varied Career

For the better part of a decade, Toni’s jobs ranged from car sales to house cleaning. She enrolled in college courses several different times.

When her son was young, Toni moved to a rural area east of Bakersfield and became a behavior modification paraprofessional for the local school district. She was good at her job, which led to a supervisor opportunity.

But just before the pandemic hit, Toni was told that her lack of college degree could hold her back from advancing further. She retrenched and became certified as a drug and alcohol counselor, then returned to Bakersfield when her son started high school.

Working in a Prison Reignites Her Spark for Medicine

When Toni was hired as a substance counselor for the Amity Foundation, she worked with incarcerated people. “That environment was a spark again,” she says. “Working in the prison reminded me why I always wanted to be a doctor.”

“I loved educating patients and helping them figure out the right treatments. I love giving compassion and care to people who don’t always receive that elsewhere.”

Hitting the Reset Button

Life circumstances brought Toni to Colorado in early 2022, and she took it as her opportunity to restart her career. “Somewhere I had heard about the concept of an apprenticeship, where you could go to school while working in the setting of what you were studying,” she says.

Her research led her to a posting about a medical assistant apprenticeship with Centura Health in partnership with Front Range Community College. By summer 2022, she had been accepted into the program, which required her to simultaneously earn a medical assistant certificate at FRCC.

A Rigorous Class and Apprentice Schedule

Four days a week, Toni gets paid to work as a medical assistant apprentice at St. Anthony North Hospital. Every Friday, she attends a full day of class with lab work at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus.

It’s a busy schedule of earning-while-learning, but she loves every minute of it. “For me, this is 20 years in the making,” Toni says. “I finally found a way to make working in medicine a part of my life.”

The Apprenticeship Model

Her apprenticeship involves talking with patients, taking vitals, communicating patients’ needs to doctors, and tasks like giving vaccines, drawing blood and advising patients on the next step in their care.

As an adult student, the apprenticeship model is exactly what she needed. “I wanted something accelerated, but I also really appreciate that I’m able to apply what I’m learning at FRCC each week on the job at St. Anthony North,” she says.

“I’m getting paid, which helps so much with the financial side of things, and I’ll have the opportunity to work at Centura Health once I complete the program and become certified.

“I can’t think of a better setup.”

Different From Internships

Apprenticeships are nationally recognized training programs that combine real work with learning—on the job and in the classroom. They’re different from internships or other training programs in several key ways:

  • The students are paid to learn while they hone their skills.
  • They receive instruction from FRCC instructors (classroom and lab).
  • They earn a credential when they finish the program.

The Medical Assistant apprenticeship is one of several healthcare-focused apprenticeships offered in partnership by FRCC and organizations around the Colorado’s Front Range. Other health care apprenticeships include pharmacy technician and sterile processing. FRCC also offers apprenticeship opportunities in manufacturing and tree care—and is currently working to begin new apprenticeships in information technology and cybersecurity.  

Looking Toward a Future in Medicine

When Toni finishes the classroom instruction for her apprenticeship in January and passes the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant national exam, she will interview for full-time MA positions within Centura Health. After successfully completing FRCC programs, the majority of health care apprentices get hired for continuing positions with their employer, which come with a pay raise.

“For me, it is confirmation that a job in medicine really is for me. I wanted it forever but talked myself out of it due to a lack of confidence. I am excited to keep continuing on this path.”

“Everything about this experience I’ve enjoyed, including the caring people I work with at St. Anthony North and the classmates in the program who have become lifelong friends,” she says.

Next Up: A Degree

Her path will continue with a medical assistant job starting in 2023, but Toni is thinking long term as well. She plans to start working on an Associate of Arts degree in criminal justice at FRCC in January, and wants to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice while taking pre-med courses.

She hasn’t given up on her dream of becoming a doctor. One day, she hopes to become a physician within the prison system.

“I’d love to serve that community because they need good health care like anybody else,” she says. “I think it is a hugely underserved population that often has high rates of chronic medical conditions and other issues. And I believe that if we can teach them to care for themselves, they’re more likely to care for others.”

Apprenticeship Week

National Apprenticeship Week is Nov. 14-20, 2022! NAW is a nationwide celebration where industry, labor, equity, workforce, education, and government leaders host events to showcase the successes and value of Registered Apprenticeship for re-building our economy, advancing racial and gender equity, and supporting underserved communities. NAW is an opportunity to highlight how Registered Apprenticeship, a proven and industry-driven training model, provides a critical talent pipeline that can help to address some of our nation’s pressing workforce challenges such as rebuilding our country’s infrastructure, addressing critical supply chain demands, supporting a clean energy workforce, modernizing our cybersecurity response, and responding to care economy issues.

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