A Calm Presence: Grad Entering Healthcare Industry to Ease Fears
Jacqueline Arana’s goal is to be there for people when they don’t have anyone else.
She wants to be a physician assistant (PA) and work to build trust in medical professionals, to be the person her patients can speak openly to and lean on for deeper understanding.
“I want to be a person people can trust and confide in,” said Arana. “I think that’s part of the problem we’re seeing now in our society – people don’t have trust in the medical community, and they’re scared.”
Arana is graduating with honors from Dalton State this semester with a degree in biology with a pre-health concentration. In addition to her dedication to academics, Arana has maintained a steady job as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and volunteered. She is currently a medical technician at Dalton Place, a senior living community, and volunteers at the DEO clinic, a nonprofit organization that provides healthcare to adult patients in Whitfield and Murray counties.
“I knew I wanted to be in the healthcare field,” said Arana, a 2018 graduate of Dalton High School. “When I was growing up I wanted to be a doctor, but everyone says that when they’re younger. Then I learned you can do a lot as a PA. I love people and love talking to people and hearing their stories, especially my residents. They are older and have a lot to tell. Plus, a lot of the time they just need someone to talk to. I can be that person for them.”
Arana lost her grandfather, who lived in Mexico, this summer. He was in his 60s, unvaccinated and contracted COVID-19.
“It’s scary to be in healthcare right now, but someone needs to do it,” she said. “I can’t leave it up to others. A lot of people don’t know how to properly take care of themselves. I don’t want my patients to struggle like my grandfather did. He was so young. I want people to have a chance to live a long, happy life.”
Taking care of COVID-19 patients has impacted her time at Dalton State. Being exposed at work and while volunteering meant quarantining to prevent spreading the virus. So, she had to miss in-person classes and keep up with her courses remotely during those exposures. But it didn’t slow her down.
“One of the things that stands out the most about her is her reaction to the challenges and trauma of this pandemic,” said Dr. David DesRochers, associate professor of biology. “I have seen so many students struggle and break beneath the weight of this event. Jackie always seemed calm and grateful. I can't imagine that she was not impacted, but she projected this energy that things would be OK. She is always very kind and caring with those around her. She has a thoughtful and friendly attitude towards everyone.”
Arana was engaged in class, always prepared for discussions and labs, DesRochers said. She credits DesRochers' Research Methods course for helping her learn to be more outspoken.
“Dalton State is a challenging college for sure,” she said. “The professors here aren’t easy, but they want you to succeed so they will support you. I’ve been fortunate to have great professors. Dr. DesRochers, Dr. James Adams and Dr. Kim Hays will not let you sit in class and not say anything. I’ve always been timid to speak up in class. I don’t know what I’m afraid of, maybe stuttering or my voice cracking. But they encourage you to speak up. They’ve helped me overcome my shyness.”
Adams, a professor of biology, echoed Arana’s involvement and passion for learning.
“The thing I appreciate about Jackie the most is that she is interactive in class and lab,” Adams said. “This, of course, means that she comes to class prepared, having read the material and ready to ask questions if something was confusing to her, which wasn't often. It also means that she is truly interested in the material - be it animal behavior, ecology or human anatomy and physiology - all three of which she took from me. I’ve had some academically gifted students who don’t seem engaged at all. Jackie is definitely not that way.”
Arana takes her assignments and course work a step further. In her animal behavior course, she was given an outline and information on items to cover for a presentation.
“She is creative and flexible,” Adams said. “Jackie was creative in her presentation and covered all the information we asked for, adding some really fun extra information we didn’t specifically ask for. We found her talk innovative and fun to listen to. She got the highest score of anyone.”
Arana plans to take a gap year after graduation. She’ll continue working as a CNA while she applies to graduate school programs to become a PA. She hopes to find a position as a travel CNA, allowing her to work in different parts of the state with different demographics to gain more experience before entering her graduate program.
Her goal is to work in gynecology.
“Healthcare is an adventure,” Arana said. “I can follow people when they’re being born all the way through to when they’re older.”
Her education from Dalton State has given Arana the confidence she needs to continue working toward her professional and personal goals. She chose Dalton State because it was close to her family and affordable. But she also chose it because her dad earned an associate degree from Dalton State. She was driven by a healthy competition to obtain her bachelor’s degree.
Arana is graduating with no student loan debt. She received the Zell Miller Scholarship, and what little of her tuition wasn’t covered by the scholarship, she was able to pay out of pocket. This means she’ll be in a better position financially for graduate school.
“I’m excited to be graduating,” she said. “It’s also getting a bit of weight off my shoulders. It has been stressful. Dalton State is not easy, but everyone on campus supports you through it.”
“I did it.”