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After working as a medical assistant for nearly 30 years, LeAnn Thorne, CCMA, sought career advancement by earning industry credentials — and she didn’t let a brain tumor diagnosis stop her.

Since she was a child, Thorne knew she wanted to be in the medical field because she loved helping and caring for others. Growing up in a small town in Indiana, she says there weren’t a lot of educational opportunities in her area, and as a young mother she chose a career as an emergency medical technician (EMT).

Finding the pay to be lacking, and with a move to Indianapolis under her belt, Thorne began working at a bakery to make ends meet, and in the process started to research other career options within the healthcare field — leading her to medical assisting.

“That’s when I decided to apply to a medical assistant program,” she says. Thorne, now a mother to three grown children and grandmother to eight, credits the program with helping her achieve her career goals of working in healthcare: “It has fulfilled my desire to be a caregiver and gave me the opportunity to support my family. There’s nothing I wanted more than to show my kids how to work hard to achieve goals. When I graduated top of my class of my MA program, my family was so proud of me. My kids were at my graduation cheering me on!”

Overcoming obstacles

Thorne’s accomplishments are all the more noteworthy because she earned her national certification despite receiving a brain tumor diagnosis in 2006. Her physician warned her that she could face significant disabilities after surgery, however, she had a miraculous recovery.

The tumor grew back years later, requiring an additional surgery and radiation, and has since recurred, causing severe headaches. Through her own health battles, Thorne kept fighting and passed her certified clinical medical assistant (CCMA) exam with flying colors.

“When beginning to study for my certification exam, I was concerned because of my past brain tumors and procedures, and because it was so long ago when I completed my [education] program,” says Thorne, “It was more difficult for me to study than it was 27 years ago during my program. I wasn’t sure what I had retained from back then. Plus, I wasn’t sure how much my surgery and radiation impacted my cognitive abilities.”

With decades of experience working as a medical assistant, Thorne knew the fundamentals that the exam would cover, but was apprehensive about testing.

She utilized a study resource and practice tests to help her prepare. She also studied with others working toward their certification, quizzing one another on the material.

Climbing the MA career ladder

Thorne earned her CCMA as part of Indiana University Health’s career laddering program, which allowed her to study and learn on the job.

“The career laddering program outlines specific goals and benchmarks that you have to reach to climb to the next rung,” she says.

“To advance beyond MA1, I needed to be part of the career laddering program…MA2 requires getting certified among many other responsibilities. It also requires being recommended by your supervisor…and comes with a pay increase,” Thorne says. “After the certification program, there are even more opportunities available, including working your way up to a team leader role.”

As for anyone considering certification, Thorne says, “Just do it. Do it for you and your career.”

She adds, “I had some fairly significant obstacles to overcome and I am so thankful now that I’ve earned my certification and that it’s easy to maintain. Certification helped me to refresh skills I hadn’t used in a long time. If I can do it, others can do it too.”

Best of all, by earning her credentials, Thorne gets to continue doing what she loves most — working with patients. “I love my job and I think my patients can feel that. I think it makes a difference.”

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