Dana McDonald has certainly had her fill of education—but she’s not done yet. The 38-year old started by earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College in 2002. Her focus there was photography, but she found her career to be unfulfilling and, it was difficult to earn a stable living. She knew a change was needed and decided to follow her true passion: helping others.

With all that in mind, she earned an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) Basic Certificate from Malcolm X College in 2004. From there, she continued on at Malcolm X to earn an Advanced Certificate as an EMT- Paramedic in 2006. For the next six years, Dana worked as a paramedic at a private ambulance company while waiting for a job with the Chicago Fire Department. Unfortunately, she seriously injured her back while working. Dana’s doctor told her that she could no longer continue to work as a paramedic because her body could no longer handle the strenuous physical demands.

In 2013, determined to reach her goal of becoming a physician assistant (PA) with an MMS (Master of Medical Science), Dana started taking pre-requisite courses. In 2016 she earned her an associate of applied science from Malcolm X and, in 2017, enrolled in Malcolm X’s Medical Assistant (MA) program. She knew that program would open doors in the medical community and that the experience she would gain as a medical assistant would also make her a more attractive candidate to physician assistant programs.

In the spring of 2018, Dana finished her MA program, which included an externship at the Rush Oak Park Specialty Care Clinic. Next up was the MA certification exam; that box was checked by way of a perfect score on the test. She’s now working full-time at Rush Oak Park as a medical assistant and, in her spare time, applying to PA schools that offer a master’s level degree.

Dana says that Malcolm X was like a second home and that her family there always had her back. She used her advisor to connect with the medical assistant program and the Career Center for resume and interview help. She also took advantage of a virology research opportunity, where she learned about mutations in a specific part of the Influenza A virus, and gave a presentation on the Ebola virus.

Dana knows gaining entry to her preferred physician assistant program, Rush, will be tough, but she also knows she’s very qualified. With a medical assistant certification, a bachelor’s, an associate degree, and a full-time job in the field, Dana will make a great candidate for the two-and-a-half year program.

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