Success Story: Administrative Assistant Degree to Business Administration in Healthcare

Special to Devils Lake Journal

As a child growing up in Lakota, North Dakota, Mahalia Cruz knew she wanted to work in health care. “When I was 11, I wanted to be a pediatrician, but when I found out schooling takes an average of 13 years, I thought nursing would be a better fit,” said Mahalia. She enrolled in the nursing program at Dakota College at Bottineau in 2016, but her career goals soon took another path. “I got interested in the business side of health care, so I switched to the medical administrative assistant program. My ultimate career goal is to be a hospital administrator.”

Family and finances both played a role in Mahalia’s choice of Dakota College at Bottineau. “I always wanted to go to college, as no one in my family ever had. But as a foster child and single mom, I didn’t have the financial resources for college. I was amazed and so grateful when I found out that grants would cover my tuition. So affordability was a big factor for me."

Family and finances both played a role in Mahalia’s choice of Dakota College at Bottineau. “I always wanted to go to college, as no one in my family ever had. But as a foster child and single mom, I didn’t have the financial resources for college. I was amazed and so grateful when I found out that grants would cover my tuition. So affordability was a big factor for me.”

Mahalia sees her education as not only a foundation for her career, but also an inspiration to her daughter, now 4 1/2 years old. “Dakota College was the perfect fit for me as my daughter was seven weeks old when I started school and two when I finished. DCB was flexible, helpful, understanding, and motivating. Going to college and continuing my education is by far the best decision I made for my daughter and for myself. It has opened a world of opportunity for us and I am thankful for my education every day. There is one thing that can never be taken from you, and that is your education. Educate yourself, use your education, and remember that it is something unique to you that can never be taken away. It's worth it.”

Mahalia appreciated the mentorship and guidance provided by DCB instructors. “My advisor and professor, Russ Gagnon, was a huge mentor and a source of guidance during my time at DCB. He offered education information, shared his experiences, and he always wanted the best for not only me, but other students as well. Professor Keri Keith, who taught quite a few of my classes, was an absolute joy. She was a strong teacher with a heart of gold. I enjoyed her classes and even asked her to be a professional reference when I graduated from DCB. Those two and their teachings have stuck with me as I’ve continued my education and started on my health care career.”

The option of being able to take classes on campus and online was important to Mahalia, as a full-time student and mother of an infant daughter, Piper. “Initially, being an online student was challenging as I had never experienced it before. Ultimately, I enjoyed online education as it allowed for flexibility, which was important to me as a mom. The professors really knew their subjects, and in some classes where I needed help, emailing or calling my professor was always an option.” Mahalia graduated with an A.A.S in medical administrative assistant in the summer of 2019 and moved back to Lakota to be near family.

Her experience in online education at DCB served her well as she graduated from the University of Mary in April 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in health care administration earned through their online program. She’s recently been accepted into the university’s master’s program in business administration with a specialization in health care.

Mahalia’s job as an eligibility worker for Benson County Social Services in Fort Totten is giving her hands-on experience with health care administration. “I’m responsible for what we call ‘presearch,’ which means going through our programs to find all of the information needed for the interview process, conducting the interview, and verifying all information provided. Then I register the application and finalize all information needed to process the case. It’s a lot of very detailed work, but the more I do it, the more comfortable I’m becoming with the process.”

Mahalia’s career goal is clear. “I want to run a hospital. I think to be in health care, you have to be passionate. You have to be aware of your surroundings and your environment. It’s fast-paced and always changing, so be prepared to roll with the punches. Health care is a home for those in the community, as people will always need medical attention, advice, and expertise. Specifically, as a health care administrator, be aware of the medical staff you are hiring, be aware of the day-to-day operations going on in your medical facility. Do what’s best for the patients coming into and out of your facility and this will in turn benefit your hospital, staff, and operations. Health care has such amazing opportunities for those willing to apply themselves. I'd say if you're considering a career in health care, go for it!”

Mahalia sees her education as not only a foundation for her career, but also an inspiration to her daughter, now 4 1/2 years old. “Dakota College was the perfect fit for me as my daughter was seven weeks old when I started school and two when I finished. DCB was flexible, helpful, understanding, and motivating. Going to college and continuing my education is by far the best decision I made for my daughter and for myself. It has opened a world of opportunity for us and I am thankful for my education every day. There is one thing that can never be taken from you, and that is your education. Educate yourself, use your education, and remember that it is something unique to you that can never be taken away. It's worth it.”

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

Be sure to follow Devils Lake Journal on our twitter page, @devilslakenews, and like us on Facebook!