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Grabbing the Allied Health brass ring

Martha Lopez (right)
with Julie Giguere,
Radiation Oncology supervisor

After working 12 years in a clerical capacity within the hospital setting, Martha Lopez knew she wanted to make a change; she just didn’t know where to go or how to get there. But Eric LoMonaco, then the assistant director of Radiation Oncology at Community Hospital, had an idea for both.

“After working in the Comprehensive Cancer Center or five months,” says Lopez, “I met Eric, who just kept talking to me, telling me I could do it, that I could become a radiation therapist.  One night, I couldn’t sleep with the thought that I really could do it; it was possible. I ran into Eric the next morning and told him he was right — I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know how.”

LoMonaco introduced Lopez to Community Hospital’s Allied Health Preparatory Program, which offers current employees a forgivable loan of up to $30,000 to return to school and acquire the education and training that will set them on a new career path in a clinical field. The idea is that the program can help address the growing shortages in certain clinical professions.

“Eric guided me to Foothill College in Los Altos Hills,” says Lopez. “I first enrolled in a two-year program at Monterey Peninsula College to complete my prerequisite courses before applying to the program at Foothill. Then I commuted to Los Altos Hills one day a week for two years and did my clinical rotations in Morgan Hill, then Santa Cruz, and finally back at Community Hospital.”

To qualify for the Allied Health Preparatory Program, candidates must have been employed by Community Hospital for three years and must sign an agreement that they will come back to the hospital to work in their new field for at least four years; if they do, their loan is completely forgiven.  Those who do not return to the hospital or who do not pass their requirements to work in the field must repay their loan.

Lopez graduated from Foothill College on September 15, 2006, and had 90 days to pass the national board exams for radiation therapy. She took her boards just five days after graduating, and learned that she had passed just two weeks later.

“I am so pleased that I was able to save a radiation therapist position for her,” says Julie Giguere, supervisor of Radiation Oncology.  “And I am blessed to have her on staff. She is a huge asset on the patient level; and after so many years working in a clerical capacity, she really knows how the hospital works.”

Lopez, now a single parent who raised two teenaged daughters and a pre-schooler while she worked full-time and attended school, also knows what it took to achieve her dream.

“The hardest part,” she says, “was giving up time with my family. It was an extremely challenging time in my life, but it has brought me to this. The entire process and my new job absolutely changed the quality of my life completely. I’m not talking about finances, but about my appreciation for life. I live it every day, appreciating every moment I have with my kids and family. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me, other than my kids.”

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