Last fall, medical assisting students Jenny Duran, 23 and Nicci Sandoval, 20 were faced with a tight budget, like most college students.  They got an unexpected surprise from Colorado Senate Bill 22-226.  The bill designated $26 million of the federal COVID stimulus funding to be distributed to Colorado community and technical colleges to provide money for students interested in pursuing entry-level jobs in the health care industry.  Those programs are:  certified nursing assistant (CNA), emergency medical technician (EMT), medical assistant and dental assistant.

Jenny Duran is checking the stool for blood by performing a stool hemoccult test while her Medical Assisting instructor, Yvette O’Brien, looks on.Both Duran and Sandoval were already enrolled in the Medical Assisting program on the Alamosa Trinidad Campus when they learned about the funds from their Medical Assisting Professor, Yvette O’Brien.

Duran and Sandoval are cousins who live next door to each other near Antonito, Colorado, where they were both raised in a close-knit Hispanic community.  Both graduated from Centauri high school in La Jara.  Both students had received financial aid, but this additional money closed the gap providing a little over $3,100 each for tuition.  Living only a short five minutes from the northern New Mexico border but 30 minutes from the college, Duran said, “Carpooling helps but gas prices are still sky high and we’re all (students) broke!”

In a 2021 report, Mercer, a research firm, predicted, in five years, there will be a shortage of 54,000 entry-level health care workers in Colorado alone, with a shortage of 3.2 million nationwide.  

Duran is a returning Trinidad State student who graduated in 2019 with an Associate Degree.  Although she joined her boyfriend in fast-paced California for a year after that, life in the San Luis Valley, at a far less frantic pace, soon lured them home.  She missed her family and her community and wanted to further her education at Trinidad State.  Ultimately, Duran wants to be an ultrasound technician and she plans to transfer to Pueblo Community College to pursue that interest after she completes her medical assisting training.  She appreciates Yvette O’Brien as an instructor. “Her classes are very easy to comprehend, and I absolutely love the hands-on clinical skills. Taking this class was my best decision yet,” said Duran.

Nicci Sandoval is giving an intramuscular injection to the mannequinMeanwhile, her cousin, Nicci Sandoval, who had taken most of her general education classes while in high school, was struggling with balancing the stringent demands of the nursing program at Trinidad State with the demands of a newborn.  She decided to temporarily leave the nursing program and join her cousin in the Medical Assisting program.  It would be less demanding than the nursing program, yet it would enable her to learn medical terminology and techniques in a little more relaxed atmosphere, thus building a foundation for the nursing curriculum.  She plans to return to her nursing studies in the fall when her baby is done nursing and will be sleeping through the night. 

Although Sandoval has wanted to be a nurse for years, the covid outbreak weighed heavily on her.  “Covid was a scary time and I would like to be in a better position to help during a medical crisis.  A lot of our Hispanic community was dying from Covid and I want to be able to give back to my people.  I want to be here for them like they have been here for me,” said Sandoval.

“Mrs. Yvette is the best instructor I’ve had so far,” said Sandoval, “because she’s so involved with her students.  She is so hands-on and even informs us about job opportunities.”

O’Brien said, “This is a great opportunity for people of the San Luis Valley and the Trinidad area, including our high schools, to start a career in health care,” said Yvette O’Brien. “My program was originally started for the working people and the classes were held at night to accommodate them. If I had had this opportunity (Senate bill 22-226) when I was growing up, I would have done it,” she added. The response was so great the money for this bill is exhausted, but efforts are on-going to find more funding to encourage others to enter the field of health care as well.

“The medical assisting program can be completed in just three semesters and my students have many opportunities for work,” O’Brien said.  Once a student has earned a Medical Assisting Certificate, it applies to any state.  Locally, she has students who train in clinics and eye care centers.  Nationally, students who graduated from her program work in Alaska, Arizona, California, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and more.

Jenny Duran is doing a venipuncture to obtain blood for testingSome students choose to further their educations. One of her former students is finishing the surgical tech program at Pueblo Community College. Three of her current students have plans to attend another Colorado community college and study ultrasound technology.

Even some concurrent students taking medical assisting at a few local high schools benefitted from Senate bill 22-226.  Concurrent students are high school students taking college courses while in high school and receiving both high school and college credit.

With her work in the industry combined with educating, O’Brien has more than 25 years of experience in the health care industry. To learn more about medical assisting contact Yvette O’Brien at

To learn about the health care programs offered at Trinidad State, contact or call.  If you are a business that hires people in one of these areas and would like Trinidad State College to work with you on getting information out about your openings or would like to come to the college and talk to the various classes, please contact LoriRae Hamilton.