When the first Medical Assistant students arrive on the Merced College Los Banos campus this month, Vikki Grihalva will likely meet them at the door, and lead them exactly where they need to go.

We mean the instructional program assistant will literally direct them to class and metaphorically lift their spirits to attack educational goals.

It is mission critical that the fledgling program will open Year 1 reassuring new CMA students that they have nothing to fear.

“We’re trying to build robust programs that meet the community’s needs and this happened,” said Dr. Lonita Cordova, Dean of Los Banos. “Honestly, I’m so excited to get it up and running. We hope to mirror the Merced campus’s numbers and success. To start, we’re focusing on providing new opportunities and serving as many students as we can.”


The San Joaquin Valley has struggled for decades to recruit and train enough medical personnel to care for its people. It’s a crisis. 

For that reason alone, adding CMA training in Los Banos, after 15 successful years in Merced, was a no-brainer, a chip shot, a tap-in. Cordova and Jessica Moran, Merced College Dean of Adult Education and Noncredit, agreed they had to do it.

Then the world caught a virus.

“But we thought about the transition to online curriculum in the wake of the pandemic, and we reached a conclusion, Moran said. “What’s stopping us? There’s a need in Los Banos. People have been wanting this. We had the right people in place. I knew Dr. Cordova would get it off the ground. We had the tenacity to get it done.”

The College had already received state Strong Workforce monies to retrofit a classroom for Certified Nurses’ Assistant (CNA) training. It reallocated some funds to bring in more equipment for CMA students.

Cordova said without the space for CNA training there would be no CMA program. She hopes having both will allow them to eventually build an allied health department in Los Banos.


There are four classes in the Los Banos’s CMA program. Students will learn the Microsoft Office suite and Medisoft, and practice handling Electronic Health Records while doing medical office record-keeping.

On the clinical side, students will learn to take vitals, administer medications and injections, do labs and set up EKGs. They also take a Bloodborne Pathogens course, before completing an externship. 

After that, students can take exams to become a Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA), a Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) and an Electronic Health Records Specialist (CEHRS).

That is a boatload of training for a tuition-free, non-credit program. For-profit schools charge roughly $14,000 for the same training. The entire Los Banos program—including certification exams—costs $720 total.

CMAs can make roughly $27,000 per year to start. Yes, certification opens doors.

“It allows them to dip their toes into the field, while they’re also taking care of their families,” Cordova said. “It’s great foundational experience.”


The beauty of Adult Education & Noncredit courses is how they beckon people from different walks of life back to school. A second-career adult. The single parent. A veteran starting fresh after the military. The new immigrant. Anyone who didn’t warm to traditional schooling. Anyone who feels unmoored in their work.

“If you want to commit, you can do that in the CMA program without the anxiety of grades,” Moran said. “It’s competency-based. It’s about putting in the hours.”

Even not speaking English can stop you. The College offers four free, noncredit English as Second Language courses. People motivated to get into health care, but nervous about their English, needn’t feel nervous.

“As a [former] dean of student equity and success, it’s rejuvenating and exciting to level the playing field by helping people gain higher level skills at low costs, and expose them to different industries, doing things they might never have dreamed of doing,” Cordova said. “We’re struggling as a society right now, so it’s nice to be able to offer hope.”


The Merced program for the CMA program always has a waiting list, but Los Banos is an equal alternative.

“How did it come about?” Moran said. “There were many people behind the scenes, putting the idea forward. Dr. Cordova and I listened. We looked at the data and did something about it. It’s taken a lot of work, but it’s been so worth it to reach this point.”

By Luciana Chavez, Special to the Office of External Relations

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