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Setting Aside Fear to Pursue a Dream Career: “It’s opened up so many things”

Sandra Ornelas let fear hold her back for far too long. At 40 years old, she weighed almost 500 lbs. and had been out of work for 5 years. She mostly stayed home, and if she did go anywhere, she needed help putting on shoes and had to walk with a cane. Too often in our society, women struggling with obesity are neglected and made invisible.

That feeling is a thing of the past for this JVS SoCal CareerWork$ Medical program graduate, who had always dreamed of helping children when she discovered our program. Today, she now works in her dream career field—as a patient services representative at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

It didn’t come easy. Sandra grew up in East Los Angeles and after high school, attended Cal State Northridge for a year and a half before transferring to East L.A. College to earn an Associate in Arts degree in liberal arts. A bachelor’s degree was her ultimate goal, but she was proud to achieve this milestone. It was supposed to be a temporary place to land in her journey. Sandra dreamed of working as a social worker or sociologist after her studies. Instead, she began a long struggle with obesity, anxiety and depression that made it difficult to attend school or work. “I think I just got too comfortable after I got married,” shares Sandra.

One morning, while getting out of bed, she collapsed and landed in the hospital. Scared, Sandra began looking into bariatric weight-loss surgery, but had to lose 50 lbs. to be a candidate. A friend had shed pounds through an online health and wellness community, and Sandra gave it a try. As she achieved some early success, she knew that gaining control of her destiny meant taking action on the things that are important to her. As the pounds rolled off, Sandra felt inspired to keep going. To date, she has lost 295 lbs. and was recently approved for a surgery to remove excess skin. By this time, Sandra also felt ready to go back to work.

Her cousin suggested she apply for the CareerWork$ Medical program. This program offers participants an 8-week boot camp to prepare them for non-clinical careers in health care, free of charge, underwritten by generous donors and corporate partners.  “I always wanted to do something in the medical field, but was too afraid to pursue it. ” remarked Sandra.

“ I’m proud to be a part of this program,” said Ruth Wilson, Senior Vice President of Human Resources advisor at RadNet during a recent CareerWork$ Medical graduation ceremony. Sandra says the most important thing the program taught her is confidence. She was always nervous in job interviews, especially when asked to talk about herself. “I’d always get stuck on that,” she says. “Students have done the right thing, it’s fantastic,” echoed Ruth.

She also appreciated the program’s  flexibility when her father had a stroke while he was vacationing in Mexico. She had to make a 2-day trip to pick him up there and bring him home for stable care and recovery. Despite the stress of this experience, Sandra was able to bring a laptop to complete her homework and a test scheduled for that date. For most participants, staying out of the workforce while being in the course can be a challenge, despite tuition costs being underwritten.

After graduating from CareerWork$ Medical, Sandra began interviewing for jobs – starting with those partners who interview participants at their graduation event. This is a vital component of the programs “One day, Children’s Hospital called me and I interviewed with one department first and then another (her current department) a week later,” she says. The next day, she had a job offer.

“Children’s Hospital is a great place to work,” says Sandra, who welcomes and checks in patients, verifies their insurance, asks about allergies and prints wristbands in preparation for appointments. “They’re really good to their employees and I’m learning so much already.”

All this has given Sandra a new—and more fearless—outlook on life. She feels great and can do more things. She’s also mentally more active. “Now, I can hardly sit still,” she laughs. “It has opened up so many things in my life.” In fact, she plans to return to college to finish her degree.

And to anyone who asks Sandra about her JVS program experience, she says this: “Don’t think about it; just go for it. Even though it takes time, you will succeed and end up getting a good job.”

Would you like to help others access the training they need to get good jobs? We are grateful to our generous donors, like the Women’s Leadership Network, for their ongoing support of women in professional transition. Please consider donating here.