When cancer hit home for Kim Rodriguez, she dedicated her life to hitting back.
Rodriguez began working toward a career in oncology after her grandfather, Jose Fonseca, died of lung cancer in 2006. Her first job in the field was as a certified tumor registrar at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth in 2009.
"I spent the day in the cancer registry for one of my clinicals in my associate degree program," she said. "I fell in love with it and knew that it was for me. I started my job before I graduated. A few months later, my mom, Cristela, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I knew that the job was meant to be."
Now, Rodriguez is supervisor of cancer data services at Methodist Dallas Medical Center and enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Public Health online program at the University of Texas at Arlington.
"I want to apply it to what I do in my career and to the community," she said. "A lot of what we do in the cancer programs is centered on the community — screening and prevention and finding ways to reduce the cancer burden. That ties in and complements my degree in public health. I feel like the two fit well together."
After graduating from Tarrant County College with a degree in health information technology in 2009, Rodriguez enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program at UTA. She left the program when she moved to California before returning home to Texas and becoming a Maverick again.
"I was trying to find another degree program that focused on public health," she said. "I had a great start because of the BSN program. I was able to switch gears to public health, not lose any of my credits and stay within the UTA family. It was very convenient for me."
In addition to a full-time job, Rodriguez manages accreditations for both the Commission on Cancer and the National Accreditation Programs for Breast Centers, through the American College of Surgeons, for Methodist Healthcare Dallas. Plus, she helps her boyfriend, Phillip Chung, run his drone photography business, Dabs FPV, so an online format was a must.
"We're constantly out and about," Rodriguez said. "Right after I started the program, we went to Indiana for an international drone racing competition, which was a big event. It was nice to take my laptop and still be able to do homework while I was out there traveling. I need the flexibility."
She also does extensive volunteer work. She serves as social media committee chair of the National Cancer Registrars Association and also consults for Registry Partners, which has clients all over the United States.
"The online format has worked out very well for me," Rodriguez said. "You get the syllabus and know what's coming up. You have due dates but work at your pace as you're completing things. I spent between 12 and 15 hours a week on my first course."
KINE 2350: Public Health: Principles and Populations, taught by Dr. Rebecca Garner, was eye-opening for Rodriguez. Completing the course validated her assessment that the BSPH degree program will enhance her career.
"I learned so much about what public health entails," she said. "I am already looking at the cancer population in a different way and learning how to apply different techniques and getting information out there. It has definitely helped with my profession."
Rodriguez believes UTA has found the right formula to open the door to higher education for almost anybody.
"There's a lot of versatility," she said. "Besides the public health program, there are other programs that lend themselves to being flexible for the working adult. If you work for a hospital, there's often tuition reimbursement, too. Even if you are just starting college, there is a lot of opportunity there."
Though Rodriguez has some ground to cover in her online degree program, she is already sure she will attend graduation.
"I want to walk across the stage and get my diploma," she said. "I want to do the whole thing. It's a culmination and a celebration of completing this degree."
And even after graduation day arrives in 2021, she won't ever stop learning or fighting the battle against cancer.
"My dad, Victor, is an immigrant from Mexico and a first-generation college graduate. He jokes that I am a lifetime student. He always asks me, 'Are you a doctor yet?' Eventually, my plan is to go to graduate school and get my Ph.D., so being a doctor is in the works."
Bring on the next round.
Learn more about the UTA online BS in Public Health program.
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