BY Amanda Sotelo
It was only three years ago when Jessica Pecina graduated with her associate degree in Health Information Technology from Texas State Technical College; a degree she never expected to get until she had to set a positive example.
This was the second time around at TSTC for the 39-year-old who is now a surveillance specialist with the Department of State Health Services in Harlingen and travels from Laredo to Corpus Christi monitoring birth defects and epidemiology, which is the study and analysis of the distribution and causes of disease.
She first graduated from TSTC with a certificate in nursing assistant and phlebotomy in 2000.
“I was a teen mom so when I graduated from high school, TSTC was the best choice for me,” she said. “It was affordable, close to home and a way for me to get a college education that would later help me support my family.”
The Harlingen native ended up working for Valley Baptist Medical Center for a little more than a decade before moving to a local home health care agency where she began handling and managing medical records as supervisor.
“I’m the type of person who wants to do things right if I’m going to do them,” she said. “So having no medical record experience wasn’t sitting right with me. So I said, ’Why not, let me go back to school.’”
Pecina said the timing could not have been better, because it was also during this period that Pecina’s daughter, now 24, graduated high school and immediately found out she was pregnant.
“This was also my chance to show my daughter, that no matter the circumstances, even as a teen mom, going to college was a possibility,” she said. “Being mom should never stop you from following your dreams.”
So while working full-time, the mother of two and grandmother enrolled in Health Information Technology as a full-time student.
“TSTC opened my eyes to the bigger picture of my profession,” said Pecina. “And since I was already working in the profession, the program helped me better understand the rules, laws and regulations I needed to be following.”
Pecina added that the support from faculty and staff and training she received at TSTC was invaluable for her success, especially as a parent.
“Everyone I ever encountered was so helpful and understanding. It was the faculty and staff that helped us all make it through the program” she said. “Lessons and training were thorough and gave us the foundation we needed to begin a ’successful’ career in the field. Everything I do in the field is what I learned in the classroom.”
She recognizes Health Information Technology instructor Ana Gonzalez as one of her best mentors.
“Ana is so welcoming and helpful toward everyone. She understand that life happens and we face challenges as students so she is always there to support us, offer advice and help us in any way she can, even after we graduate,” said Pecina.
Pecina is now pursuing an online bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati in Health Information Management and sits on the TSTC Health Information Management advisory committee.
She also hopes to pursue a master’s degree in health informatics.
“I recommend anyone who is looking for a college or to change careers to check out TSTC,” said Pecina. “TSTC has helped me find a career that supports my family and has helped me grow. It has changed my life for the better.”
Health Information Technology is offered at TSTC’s Harlingen and Abilene campuses and is also offered 100 percent online.
For more information on the program, visit tstc.edu.