Teresa Arreola says there may come a time when you have to set your pride aside to make the kind of changes that last.
Tell me what you do for a living.
I’m a pharmacy technician at Medical Center Pharmacy in City Heights. I’m mostly a computer operator, where I type prescriptions in and answer phone calls, but because I have my license, I can also fill prescriptions if the pharmacist needs me.
And how did you choose this line of work?
Nine years ago, before I got pregnant with my oldest child, I went to Pima Medical Institute to become a medical assistant. I finished the front office part of the program, which includes billing, coding, answering phones and so on. But then when it came time to do the back office, which includes giving injections and taking vitals, I didn’t like the needles. Then, before I could choose a different program, I found out I was pregnant and left the school.
After that I moved up north to San Luis Obispo, where I lived for about a year. My oldest child, who’s almost eight, was four months old when I got pregnant with my second. Since then, I’ve done restaurant and retail work, including three years at Target, where I did everything from food court, to cashier, to customer service, to the photo center and advertising.
At the beginning of last year, I went back to school to become a pharmacy technician because I wanted to have something stable and with regular hours. I chose this program because it seemed more interesting than the other programs Pima offered.
In order to be allowed back after dropping out, I had to write a letter stating what I’d do differently this time and what I wanted out of the program. Luckily, they took me back.
Tell me about the program.
I started in May and was done by January 3 of this year. I went to school every day from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Along with the basic classes that everyone has to take in the beginning, I had to learn 400 different brand and generic drug names. There was a lot of math and compounding, which is when we mix drugs together or use them in creams or IV bags.
The classwork was in six-week sequences, four times. And then we followed that with a five-week externship. That externship is completely different from what you learn at school.
What was the most difficult aspect of the program?
Trying to work and go to school at the same time with no car was the hardest part.
Every morning, I had to get on the bus with my kids at 4:00 a.m. to take them to the babysitter, where their school bus would pick them up. And then I’d walk to my school, which started at 8:00. Then after my school, I had to take the bus and the trolley to work at the College Grove Target and be there by 2:00. I got off at 6:00, took the bus and trolley back to Chula Vista, and picked up my kids by 7:30 or 8:00. We wouldn’t get back to my friends’ house on Imperial Avenue until 9:00 or 10:00.
During that time, I had been back and forth living with friends while I waited for my Section 8 to come through. It didn’t come through when I thought it would, and I had nowhere to go. My dad lives in Texas, and I’d almost packed up and left to live with him. At that point, there was only one month of school left and then five weeks of externship. Some friends from the program helped me find a place to live, and I ended up staying and finishing school, which I feel really good about.
To what do you attribute your ability to accept help and stick it out rather than leaving?
I was almost done, and I needed to finish so I could make a better future for my kids. I had to set aside my pride and tell myself we’ll just get this done and go from there. Even though I never liked anyone to feel sorry for me, the help my friends gave me allowed me to get back on my feet.
How did you land this job you have now?
I did my externship at this company in Chula Vista, and they hired me right away but as a relief employee, where I worked at a different facility every day. After about a month or two of that, they found a permanent position for me about 15 minutes away from my home.
What is the most difficult aspect of the job?
There’s nothing difficult about it. I get a lot of patients who are in pain and want their medication, or they’re diabetic and want their insulin, or when the insurance doesn’t pay for the medication, the patients keep calling and calling. But this is just over the phone. At Target, when people were stealing or switching price tags or returning things to get money, things could get violent sometimes.
What is the best part of the job?
The hours. The schedule. I get to spend more time with my kids, and they get to see me more often than the babysitter now.