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A determined Dollar goes to England

WCCC medical office assistant student takes internship in England to finish program

Vanessa Dollar is an "all-in" kind of student. You know the type — the person who does the work, grinds through the discomfort and comes out the other side smiling. She doesn’t take no for an answer, especially when it comes to her education. Which is why when her life was uprooted from Grand Junction, Colorado to the United Kingdom in the middle of a pandemic, her educational journey marched on.  

Dollar always knew she wanted to go into the medical field and thought being a medical assistant would be a good place to start, so she enrolled in the Western Colorado Community College (WCCC) Medical Office Assistant program.  

"The staff are amazing. They really get to know their students on a personal level," she said.

According to Dollar, the small class size was perfect. It was easy to make friends and to practice skills and techniques in a hands-on learning environment. There was only one problem: COVID.

"I was originally supposed to have completed my internship hours in May but due to COVID things got delayed," said Dollar.

In January, before the virus took America by storm, Dollar married her sweetheart, an Air Force officer in the United States military. A month later, he was deployed to Royal Air Force (RAF) Mildenhall in Suffolk, England.

The plan was to finish the program and her internship and join her husband abroad. But because of the virus, her internship was put on hold. Without it, she wouldn't qualify to be a certified medical office assistant.

“When COVID-19 hit, I had 22 students who needed to be placed in doctor's offices. The only place that was taking students at the time was St. Mary’s and they only had 10 openings," explained WCCC Lecturer of Medical Office Assistant Program Karrie Stanfill. "Half of the students had to wait until the fall."

This put Dollar in a state of limbo. She knew she had to finish school, but she also had her next chapter and a husband waiting for her in England. Instead of panicking, she got to work. She started emailing the medical clinic managers on the military base and asked if she could complete her hours there. With persistence, they eventually said yes, but that was only half the challenge. She then had to get CMU/WCCC on board.

“We talked about if she could do it over there but the challenge was, we couldn’t check on her in person,” said Stanfill.  “I really didn’t know if it was something CMU would do, especially overseas.”

Determined, Dollar didn’t give up. Fortunately, Vice President for Community College Affairs Brigitte Sundermann is known for doing everything in her power to help her students. The answer was yes.

“I feel truly blessed by this opportunity to complete my schooling requirements overseas. I am excited for this new adventure and where it can take me,” said Dollar. “I am very grateful for the flexibility of both the Air Force and CMU staff who have worked hard to make this happen for me!”

At the end of September, Dollar will start working toward her 160 hours of clinical skills, just as she would back in the states. Her duties include checking military members and their families in to appointments, taking vital signs, getting their medical history, preparing them for the visit with the doctor, giving shots, taking blood and more.

“She’s an amazing student,” said Stanfill. “It’s important to know how to question things and when to question things and I think Vanessa is going to go places because of the way she approaches situations. Whatever her end game is, she’ll do it. Her persistence will get it done.”

For Dollar, living in England has been a roller coaster thus far.

“It has been a huge adjustment being newly married, away from family and moving to a new country in the middle of the pandemic, but I am getting acclimated to this new lifestyle,” she said.

Despite the pandemic, Dollar and her husband have been able to travel the country and explore the outdoors. They expect to live in England for the next three to four years.


Written by Kelsey Coleman