A group of about 25 students, clad in dark blue medical scrubs, sat in pairs -- facing each other on either side of several long tables on a recent afternoon. About half of the mostly-female group clutched hypodermic needles in their hands as they looked at their partners and prepared to draw blood.
Nearby on the second floor of the Mountain View-Los Altos school district's adult education building, mannequins with open mouths for practicing CPR lay on medical benches against the wall, next to two prosthetic arms. A few weeks prior, the students had practiced drawing fake blood from each of the fake arms -- one with white skin, the other with dark skin -- but today, it was time for the real deal.
When they have completed the 17-week Medical Assistant Training Program, the students will be certified medical assistants and will be placed in an "externship" at a local hospital or private practice, where they may draw blood, keep track of medical records and escort patients in from the waiting room to a private office, where they will conduct preliminary tests before a doctor or nurse arrives.
The role of medical assistant is "very critical," said Dr. Abhaya Karangutkar, who teaches the class. "It is very critical, especially in today's health care environment."
Karangutkar noted that as health care costs continue to grow and doctors take on more patients, it is necessary for them to delegate the more basic and administrative tasks, such as checking vitals, taking patient histories, filing paperwork and drawing blood.
Nelsi Candanoza is looking forward to helping a doctor with such tasks. She's been dreaming of working in the medical field since she was a student at Mountain View High School. However, after graduating in 2014, she discovered that achieving her dream was going to be expensive and time-consuming -- at least if she continued on the route she was going.
By the time all was said and done, Candanoza said she would have ended up paying $25,000 to get her medical assistant credential at a large technical school. And if the cost wasn't daunting enough, after giving birth to her daughter, she found it very difficult to get out to Milpitas early enough to take the classes she needed. Then a former teacher from Mountain View High School pointed her to the adult school's program.
"It was easier for me," Candanoza said. She no longer had to drive to Milpitas, she could take classes in the afternoon, which was better for her schedule, and, to top it off, she would only need to pay $900 for the entire course -- materials included. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Zuby Kaderali's story is similar to that of Candanoza's. Though older than her classmate, Kaderali said she could not afford to attend a private school.
"Adult education has really helped me out," Kaderali said.
If it weren't for the program, Kaderali said, she wouldn't dream of getting away from her former family-run business of working at a gas station convenience store. Now, like Candanoza, she plans to transition into a role as a medical assistant and then, perhaps, pursue nursing.
Both of these women have good odds of landing a medical assistant job, according to Connie Webb, coordinator of the adult school's career technical program. Webb does her best to stay in touch with all of the medical assistant program's graduates. By her estimation, about two-thirds of the students who complete the course end up landing a job.
It helps that the school has a good reputation with local health care providers, according to Brenda Harris.
Harris, the assistant director of the adult school, said graduates of the medical assistant's program go on to "externships" working for local health care providers like the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Stanford Hospital. "We're always looking for other employment opportunities for our students."
The same goes for students of the adult school's other medical industry-oriented programs, such as the Acute Care, the Certified Nursing Assistant and the Medical Administrative Assistant programs -- where students learn skills that can get them into entry-level medical jobs.
"For a lot of students, this is really a great opportunity, Webb said, noting that many of the students she sees taking the medical courses wouldn't be able to afford to learn the skills they learn in any other way.
"This is the stepping stone to nursing (or another medical career) if that's what you choose to do," Harris said. Offering the programs to students who couldn't otherwise afford to learn medical skills is incredibly valuable, she said -- especially since some of the adult school programs only require a high school education to enroll and others don't even require that.
Often, people with a high school diploma or only some high school education have to work in menial jobs when they are younger, which will only make it harder for them in the future. "Our mission is to give students the opportunity to get the skills they need to support their families," Harris said.
Both Harris and Webb said that the medical training programs offered at the MVLA adult school aren't offered many other places at such a low cost, and they want to spread the word. That's why the adult school is holding an open house on April 2 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Harris and Webb encouraged anyone with an interest in continuing their education to check out what the adult school has to offer.
The school is located at 333 Moffett Blvd. More information can be found on the school's website, mvlaae.net, or by calling 650-940-1333.