Zoe smiling in orange shirt

Persistence leads student through hard times to reach her goal—a career in health care.

Zoe Montano has always considered herself someone who learns best by doing.

In 2018, after graduating from high school at Thornton’s Mapleton Early Career Prep, she headed off to the University of Northern Colorado with plans to become a nurse. But college felt initially overwhelming, and Zoe knew early in the year that she would do better in a smaller environment.

When her father passed away suddenly in the spring of 2019, she returned home to rethink her plans.

Starting Again at Community College

In 2019, Zoe enrolled in the medical assisting program at Red Rocks Community College—one of FRCC’s sister schools in the Colorado Community College System. “The class sizes were definitely more what I needed, and it is a great program,” she says. “But once again I realized how much better I do learning in a hands-on way rather than in a lecture-focused setting.”

She was working as a teacher’s assistant in a preschool to support herself financially—and going to school at the same time was challenging. In 2021, Zoe put her college pursuits on hold again.

Navigating Tough Times

Dropping out of school led Zoe to a difficult place, and she spent several months living in her car and inexpensive hotels. When her aunt invited her to move in with her, Zoe recommitted to turning things around.

“In summer 2022, I started looking at returning to college again—but this time, I looked into ways I could go to school and work in medical assisting at the same time,” she says.

Discovering Medical Assistant Apprenticeships

Zoe headshot

Zoe’s research led her to a job posting for a medical assistant (MA) apprenticeship with Boulder Community Health’s Gunbarrel Family Medicine clinic. She applied and was excited to be accepted into the program in August 2022, which required her to simultaneously earn a medical assistant certificate at FRCC.

“I liked that this program blends in-class learning with paid, on-the-job training,” she says. “For me, information tends to stick better with this type of structure.

“The teachers at FRCC really focus on showing you how the material covered in class applies to the job setting. And the people at Gunbarrel Family Medicine (GFM) have been wonderful about mentoring me and showing me what it means to be a medical assistant.”

Valuable Experience

Zoe gets paid to work as an apprentice at GFM three days a week. She attends school every Friday at FRCC’s Boulder County Campus and has one weekday off to dedicate to homework.

“I’m working alongside our physicians and doing everything a medical assistant does—calling patients, scanning documents, and I’m learning new skills all the time like drawing blood and giving vaccines,” she says.

Building Confidence

The thorough and caring approach of her mentors at GFM has helped Zoe soak up knowledge quickly—and in the way she learns best.

“I love going to work,” she says. “I was scared at first, but you get trained quickly and very thoroughly.”

“The way everyone at Gunbarrel Family Medicine is invested in helping me learn builds my confidence that I’m going to do well in this field when I’m certified.”

Earning While Learning

Apprenticeships are nationally recognized training programs that combine real work with learning—on the job and in the classroom. Students simultaneously go to school while also working in paid positions that allow them to build skills and work toward earning a credential when they finish the program.

The MA apprenticeship is one of several health care-focused apprenticeships offered by FRCC in partnership with organizations around Colorado’s Front Range. Others include pharmacy technician and sterile processing.

FRCC also offers apprenticeship opportunities in manufacturing and tree care. The college is also working to develop new apprenticeships in information technology and cybersecurity.

A Home at Boulder Community Health

When Zoe finishes the classroom instruction for her MA apprenticeship in January and passes the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant national exam, she will continue working at Gunbarrel Family Medicine under the guidance of the clinic’s nurse practitioner.

She’s very excited to gain more experience as an MA, and wants to become an ultrasound technician one day with more training and experience. “I would love to work in obstetrics with pregnant women,” she says. “If I could further my education to do that at FRCC, I would love to go there again.”

The Right Fit for Her

Zoe says that the apprenticeship model has been a perfect fit for her.

“In six months, I will have earned a certificate and started a new career. And I’ll do this debt free while also making a great wage,” she says.

Boulder Community Health covered half of Zoe’s tuition, while she covered the rest through other FRCC scholarships.

With medical assistants in demand, Zoe feels that FRCC’s MA apprenticeship program creates a win-win opportunity for people like her—and for the health care companies that are in need of trained MAs.

“I am so happy, and I think it works out well for the companies too,” she says. “I can’t even believe I got so lucky to find this program.”

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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