By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
While working as a medical assistance instructor at Jefferson State Community College, Jessica Clark remembers one student 12 weeks away from graduating who stopped coming to classes.
“I’m like ‘did she get sick’ because they can only miss so many days,” Clark recalled. “I was at McDonald’s one day in Roebuck and I ran into her and I didn’t recognize her but she recognized me. I asked her what happened and she was telling me her mom had just been diagnosed with Lupus… and put her dreams aside so she could take care of her family.”
Clark said she was heartbroken because she wanted to help her student, but didn’t know how. She eventually found a way to not only help that student but others.
Clark is owner and founder of the National Training Institute for Healthcare Technicians, a school based in Birmingham where she trains students to become an EKG technician, phlebotomy technician, medical assistant and patient care technician.
Clark, 40, who is also a phlebotomy supervisor at Lab Corps, started her institute in 2019 and credits the student she saw in McDonald’s with getting started.
“I prayed before I went to bed and in a dream, it just came to me that I would be teaching her . . . and then I woke up and I knew then what God had put on my heart, now the task was how am I going to start a school.”
Clark researched how to open her school, what supplies she would need and what needed to do to become accredited.
Once she finished all of her research, she made business cards for her school and returned back to the McDonald’s to find her student. “I gave her my card and I told her to call me because we’re going to get you back in school and she was like ‘I can’t’ and I told her ‘you’re going to be my first student and you’re going to be on scholarship’ and that’s what I did.”
Before she opened the school Clark said she started putting her money up “while I was researching until I got all of my money right,” she said.
She found a building where her mom used to have her own business. “I always liked the building and once she retired, I called to see if the building was still available and it was,” Clark said.
When it came to hiring instructors, Clark had built relationships with coworkers when she previously worked at Jefferson State Community College and other schools and asked for their help.
“I had been working at different institutions for years and you make friends with your coworkers,” she said. “. . . Once I got instructors, I paid them out of my pocket until I started getting students and then I would pay them out of the tuition for the students.”
For furniture and equipment, she got tables and chairs from her grandmother and a lot of the supplies and equipment from a website called www.nursepocket.com.
“What Am I Going To Do?”
When the school opened in January 2019, Clark started with only one student – the female who dropped out of Jeff State.
Clark held an Open House in April of that year to attract more students.
“I had about 10 students to sign enrollment papers and when I called them back the next week to follow up with them, nobody answered and I was like ‘Lord, what am I going to do? . . . that’s why I still continued to work at Lab Corps.”
By June, things began to turn around.
“I had five students enroll and they were all phlebotomy students. I taught them, trained them and they did their clinical rotations,” she said.
Clark currently has 10 students enrolled at the school at 616 Gadsden Highway, Birmingham, Alabama 35235 in East Birmingham. Clark has three instructors and the institute which offers traditional and online classes is open Monday through Saturday with morning, evening and night classes.
When the pandemic hit, Clark’s classes went online. “I created a platform that I could have all of my courses and teach online . . . that allowed me time and money to stack back up to continue getting things that were essential for the school.”
Once it was safe to do so, students returned to in-person learning while Clark continued to offer virtual or remote learning.
The business owner said she gets a lot of business through word of mouth and referrals. “I truly do depend on God and trust in Him, I don’t worry about what I see, I worry about what He tells me to do because I know when I do that, everything will fall in line,” she said. “I’ve had moments where I was like ‘okay, I’m short, how am I going to do this?’ and something magical happens and I’ll have a student call who wants to register and get enrolled and I’m able to make it… God has always provided and made a way.”
Making It Happen
Clark was raised in the Pratt City neighborhood in West Birmingham by her parents Virginia Kelly and Johnny Clark Jr., along with her grandmother, Annie Laura Clark and her aunt, Annie Rucker.
“My mom and dad stayed in Pratt City and I went between staying with them or my grandmother or my aunt,” said Clark. “My grandmother stayed in Woodlawn and my grandmother went to First Baptist Church Woodlawn. I was one of those kids that went to Sunday School, Bible Study, I was a cheerleader for the church, I was in the choir and I was also an usher….”
Clark said she enjoyed going back and forth between family members.
“My grandmother was the one who put it on my heart to give back because she is a big giver and she’s always giving back,” Clark said. “She would have a block party every year for Halloween and would make sure all of the kids in the neighborhood were safe… she always embedded in all of us to give back because God said we should be servants. That was a blessing for me.”
Living with her aunt, she learned “if you want something in life, you are responsible for going to go get it,” said Clark.
“My aunty taught me how to make it happen, no excuses,” she said. “My mom is just resilient, she has been through a lot and she always embedded in us the importance of education. My dad made me strong all the way around. He taught me how to know my worth and everybody is not meant to be in your life.”
Clark’s mother worked at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and her dad was general manager for Burger King. She has two older sisters and one younger sister.
She attended Gibson Elementary School, Banks Middle School and P.D. Jackson-Olin High School. After graduating from high school in 1999, she went to Virginia College where she received her associate’s degree in respiratory therapy in 2001, a field she planned to pursue because her son had asthma.
She met a respiratory therapist at Children’s Hospital who did his treatment and checked his lungs. I said ‘wow, I want to do that. My son, Joel, is sick and I want to be able to help other children who have asthma’ and that set me on that path.”
Clark has four children, Joel, 21; Jada, 20; Drew’Christen, 16 and Michelle, 12; her grandson Aydien 11 months, and she has a newborn granddaughter, Zendaya (who is a few weeks old) and fiancé Michael.
Clark received her bachelor’s degree in health and science from UAB in 2005. After receiving her bachelor’s Clark said she wanted to teach health “because I love the medical field” and went on to earn her master’s degree from UAB in 2015.
Loves To Teach
After obtaining her masters she did work with Virginia College and Fortis Institute in various roles that included part time medical assistance instructor and surgical tech instructor.
At Fortis, Clark was recommended for a job at Jeff State where she was a medical assistance instructor.
“I take everybody in, but definitely the people who look like me,” she said. “When you put back into your community, it becomes better, greater and safer, I am doing it for the students… it is changing their lives and their family dynamics… when you help that one person, it helps everybody and continues to flow on. I’m blessed to be a blessing to others.”
www.thenationaltraininginstituteforhealthcaretechnicians.com. Phone number is 205-305-5794 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org. 616 Gadsden Highway, Suite D-5 Birmingham, AL 35235. On Instagram @trainingforhealthcaretech and Facebook at The National Training Institute for Healthcare Technicians, LLC