Parsippany Students Are Striving for Success

Recent activities in and outside of the classroom position students well for the working world

(left) Medical Assisting student Nelly Pena delivers her research presentation to classmates (see below for a slideshow of various student topics!). (right) For the last 4 years, the organization Dress For Success has sent a representative to Branford Hall Parsippany for an on-campus event. Each student receives a professional outfit for job interviews. Nelly’s sister Val Medina shows off hers.

Students at the Parsippany campus of Branford Hall are preparing for professional success in several ways, from researching and giving in-class presentations to working on life skills and pulling together interview outfits. We caught up with Deborah Lombardini, Education Manager and Instructor at the Parsippany campus, for details on how her students are preparing to use what they learn in their training program for the next phase of their professional lives.

MA program research projects

Lombardini explains that during every mod (short for module, or term) of the Medical Assisting program, which is about every 3½ weeks, she requires her students to do a research project. Students choose a topic depending on the subject they’re studying in class, which varies from month to month. A recent class covered communicable diseases, and she asked the students to create a PowerPoint presentation on a disease of their choosing, to present to the class.

Lombardini provides the students with a list of elements she’d like each presentation to include, such as: symptoms; the prognosis if you were to be diagnosed with the disease; drugs and therapies to treat the disease; and preventive measures people can take to avoid contracting the disease.

“I give the students free reign on what they can talk about,” she says. “I’ve learned over nearly three decades of teaching that, if the student has some personal investment in the topic they’re working on, they’ll put more into the project.” She notes that many students chose diseases with which they were already somewhat familiar, in many cases because a friend or family member had suffered from it.

In recent mods her students have given presentations on a range of topics, including:

  • Valleny Medina: Animal Testing; Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA, commonly known as a stroke); Effects of Cigarette Smoking; Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)
  • Nekita Richards: Childhood Obesity; Bells Palsy
  • Anne Tapp: Hepatitis; Menopause
  • Kawtar Zouhir: Root Canal
  • Danielle Bruin: Fighting Mental Health Stigmas
  • Flo Lubin: Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
  • Darrielle Hayes-Ward: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neurone disease (MND)
  • Kelly Guapacha: Hypnotherapy

“By the time they get to this point in the curriculum, the students have already learned some anatomy and physiology and the basic medical terminology,” Lombardini says. “And even to choose a topic, they need to do a fair amount of research. The student really becomes a subject matter expert.” The presentations tend to be interactive, with the other students asking questions and sharing stories about someone they may know who is afflicted with the disease.

She views her role as preparing the students for both the clinical as well administrative functions that Medical Assistants tend to play, whether they will be working at a hospital or a doctor’s office. “The work is not just taking pulses and taking blood,” she says. “A lot of doctors will rely on a medical assistant in front reception as well as the back office.”

Lombardini also equips her students with the basic information they’ll need about compliance with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). “Having a Medical Assistant handle some of these duties becomes highly cost-effective for physicians in private practice,” she says. “Nurses are not trained in the same administrative duties, so our students tend to take on a number of responsibilities once they find a position.”

Emphasizing life skills

Students in Lombardini’s class also spend time focusing on study skills as well as professional development, such as the bigger-picture questions about their specific career goals. “The fact that we emphasize a range of life skills has a huge impact on our students,” she says. “We prepare them for the professional experiences at their externship sites, and help them with many aspects of the process with which they may not have experience.” This can include the general idea of accountability as well as wearing a uniform and being on time—any number of ways to help prepare them to become part of the work force, and live up to what employers will expect.

She notes that the student body spans in age from 18 to 62 years old, and that this mix makes for great classroom dynamics and lots of different ideas and values. “We also make an effort to talk about diversity,” she says, “and the importance of listening to someone else’s opinion rather than being judgmental.”

Helping students to “Dress for Success”

As part of this life skills initiative, the Parsippany campus has an ongoing relationship with the organization Dress for Success. This nonprofit supports and empowers women by providing professional attire and the development tools to help them become economically independent and succeed professionally. For the past four years, the organization has regularly sent a representative to Branford Hall Parsippany for an on-campus event. Fifteen students attended this most recent gathering on December 6, when a speaker offered tips on interviewing, such as what to say (and not to say) during an interview, the importance of sending a thank you note, and body language to be aware of. “These factors are especially important in today’s competitive job market,” says Lombardini.

The students enjoyed the presentation and then received interviewing outfits of their own to keep—entirely free of charge. “Dress for Success has a series of stylists that puts together the outfits,” she explains. The women could choose between pants and a skirt, and everyone received a work-appropriate shirt as well as shoes and accessories, such as a purse or a necklace. “The students were so proud of what they were wearing,” she says. “They would go into the bathroom to try them on, and come out walking down the hallway like Miss America!”

She noted that some of the clothes the students received were brand new, with the tags still hanging on them—all received through donation. “Dress for Success is always so good to us,” she says. “We deeply appreciate all that they do for our students.” The school will reach out to the organization some time in the spring for another presentation, depending on the number of students who will be heading out for externship interviews.

Lombardini is proud of all the efforts her students make in navigating the transition from the training program to the working world. “I think the fact that our campus has a good hire rate is due in part to the fact that we emphasize these skills with our students,” she says. “Even the interview skills of making eye contact, shaking hands, and presenting yourself with confidence can make a huge difference.”

Stay tuned in the coming months for more updates about the academic and professional development initiatives at Parsippany and the other Branford Hall campuses.