When Heidi McLean, CMA (AAMA), graduated with an associate degree and medical assisting certificate from Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland, she was the second person in her family to pursue higher education.

“My parents and generations of my family lineage graduated from secondary school only to begin working in the family businesses, join the military, or become pro­fessional farmers,” says McLean. “I appreciate their paths but also the opportunities that higher education brings.”

After graduating in 2000, she worked full time as a CMA (AAMA)® and was quickly promoted to area supervisor. During this time, she floated between primary care, dermatology, endocrinology, neurology, and cardiology—training all the newly hired medical assistants. Additionally, she worked from 6 p.m. to midnight every Friday at an urgent care facility. When the opportunity to teach students at her alma mater came up, she jumped at it.

“The coordinator at the school was looking for laboratory assistance, so two nights a week after work, I worked in the laboratory helping new students with their clinical skills,” states McLean. “It was so much fun.”

Her love of education thrived on a per­sonal level during this time as well. On the weekends, she attended the University of Baltimore in Maryland.

“I got my [Associate of Arts] degree in general studies on purpose so I could transfer, and I liked University of Baltimore because they have a health systems manage­ment program,” she explains.

When McLean graduated in December 2002, the medical assisting coordinator she assisted in the Anne Arundel Community College laboratory retired and encouraged McLean to apply for her position. McLean was hired in January 2003 and worked in that role for three years. While in the posi­tion, McLean got married, had children, and began graduate school. However, she had to pause her studies when her family moved to Pennsylvania due to her husband’s work transfer.

In Pennsylvania, she followed her love of teaching and took a job at a technical training school. During summer breaks, she worked on an as-needed basis as a medical assistant.

“For the next 15 years, I kept trying to get back into the community college setting,” explains McLean. “But we moved every 3 to 5 years for my husband’s career, and every time we moved, I’d work as a CMA (AAMA) in different roles, including as a practice manager and assistant practice administrator.”

In March 2020, after teaching at Fortis College in Smyrna, Georgia, she landed her dream job as the medical assisting program director for Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee—about a 90-minute commute from her Georgia home.

“It’s worth the drive,” asserts McLean. “I enjoy being in the community college environment, providing education and encouragement to students, many who are like I once was—first-generation college students.”

Her varied medical assisting back­ground brings a unique perspective to her students.

“I love that I floated around,” says McLean. “I think my students benefit from it because some want to work in specialties and I can often share my experience with them.”

Her greatest passion as an educator is helping the profession grow and gain recognition.

“It’s important to show that medical assistants are educated and trained properly. I can do my part to make sure my students prove this when they leave [college] and begin working in the field,” she says. “Part of preparing them is the experience they get in school, but it’s also about encouraging stu­dents to continue on with certification and to take pride in what their CMA (AAMA) credential represents.”