The construction activity outside Science Hall is impossible to miss this summer. In fact, the New Science Innovation Center will be opening in just a few months.
There’s also something special happening inside the building - away from the noise - and it has nothing to do with concrete or steel or bricks. Inside a quiet classroom, five students are on a journey.
It is impossible not to notice that these students in HCM 250, Diagnostic Medical Coding, are unique. In fact, only one of them would be considered a traditional student who came to college after high school and is seeking her first degree.
Meet the others:
Nellie Keefer worked in a hospital kitchen. She came to Westmoreland to take one medical terminology class. She decided to complete a certificate and is now working toward a degree in Medical Healthcare Management. She now works in patient registration and will graduate in the fall.
Lora Bills moved to Pennsylvania one year ago. With a husband in the military, she worked in healthcare on bases. Since her four children are grown and have moved out, she decided to return to school for the Medical Healthcare Management degree and will graduate in May. “If it’s something you want, go after it,” she said.
Jennine Raneri was working in retail when she decided she wanted a career change. After earning a certificate in Medical Office Administration, she secured a position in the field and is now working toward a degree in Medical Healthcare Management.
Patrick Dietz is working on a second associate degree. He had previously earned one from a for-profit school that is no longer operating.
“I’m learning more with this program and the instructors, and I’m actually retaining it,” he said.
Program Director Cheryl Miller said most of her students are in their late 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
She tells them the program is “a great place to start a career, not a job.” In some cases, the students have tried a clinical field like nursing or medical assisting and decided it wasn’t for them. Their desire to continue helping patients leads them to Miller’s Medical Healthcare Management program.
“I love this field,” Miller said. She has spent the past 30 years working in it.
“She is tough, fair and makes you work hard for what you want,” Bills said about Miller, who acknowledges that she has a reputation for being tough.
“This industry is exact. It can put people behind bars and put people in the ground if you don’t do it correctly. Fraud and abuse happen in this field all the time. Should we scare you? Sure,” Miller said.
It’s also a field that Miller says is “booming.” She can’t supply qualified students to local employers quickly enough. With enrollment increasing, she’s planning to add additional adjunct professors. Currently, Miller works very closely with adjunct professor Heather Meloy, who was also one of her former students.
“The instructors go out of their way to make sure we’re successful,” Bills said. “They make it really clear that they’re here for our success.”