• June 15, 2024

STC alumna triumphs against all odds

STC alumna triumphs against all odds

Refusing to give up in the face of life’s challenges, South Texas College alumna Josie Alonzo, in the last 20 years, has not only accomplished her dream of earning a degree and becoming a nurse, but has also expanded her expertise to a different healthcare career within the medical field.

A devoted wife and mother of four, Alonzo recently crossed the graduation stage for the fifth time in her life to receive her associate degree in Health Information Technology, proving that with dedication and resilience, nothing is impossible.

“When I became a mother at 16 years old, many said, ‘That’s it. You’ll probably have more children and won’t pursue an education,'” she shared. “But I refused to be a statistic. Though it was rough, I pushed myself to be better. I don’t know how I did it, but I did.”

Born and raised in Del Rio, the 42-year-old grew up as an excellent student, on a path to graduate early from high school and pursue a medical degree.

“I initially wanted to become a cardiologist, but the responsibilities of motherhood made it difficult for me to leave town,” she said. “I then decided to pursue nursing because my grandmother inspired me; she had always wanted to be a nurse but couldn’t.”

With the invaluable support of her family, Alonzo graduated from Del Rio High School in 1999 and attended a Vocational Nursing program, becoming the first in her family to graduate from college.

“I owe it all to my mom’s help. Back then, there weren’t many resources for teen moms,” she said. “Being the oldest of four, becoming the first to go to college was a huge achievement for me. I still wanted to set an example.”

Marrying a Brownsville native, Alonzo moved to the Rio Grande Valley in 2008, where she continued her successful career as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN).

“I loved my job and would have happily remained a vocational nurse because I enjoyed it so much, but in the back of my mind, I still wanted to be a registered nurse,” she said. “So, after 15 years in my career, I decided to apply to STC and graduated with my associate degree in Nursing in 2016.”

Years later, while working for an insurance company and with almost 20 years of experience in health care, Alonzo found her lifelong mission to help patients obstructed by medical coding issues, which motivated her to continue her education.

“Our job was to ensure that patients discharged from the hospital had all the necessary supplies or equipment for home care, such as hospital beds or medications, and to follow up on their appointments with their physicians,” she explained. “Sometimes, they would not get what they needed because the codes were not submitted correctly. We encountered this issue so many times that I finally told myself, ‘There’s got to be a way for me to learn how to fix it.’”

Empowered by her employer, she returned to STC in 2020 to pursue a Medical Coding Specialist Certificate, challenging herself to simultaneously pursue a bachelor’s degree in Nursing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).

“It was the fall of 2020, and with the uncertainty of COVID-19, I felt inspired to continue improving myself,” she said. “I took classes slowly but surely, taking my time to double major. It was fascinating to discover both the administrative and patient care sides of the field.”

Alonzo graduated from STC again in December 2022 and earned her bachelor’s degree in August 2023. Recognizing that she was only five classes away from another credential, she continued her studies at STC and graduated in May 2024 with an associate degree in Health Information Technology.

Although it’s been a long and rewarding journey, she has had numerous job offers, some even out of town,  and now she is finally securing a dream position that combines her years of experience in patient care with her expertise in medical coding and health information.

“As a Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialist, I bring together all aspects,” she said. “My job requires me to be like an investigator, verifying that records are accurate and complete. It’s amazing, and I enjoy it so much. It was a field completely unknown to me until I discovered it through STC.”

With her dream remote position working for Driscoll Children’s Hospital, Alonzo has no plans to stop anytime soon. She now looks forward to obtaining her national licensure as a Registered Health Information Technician and pursuing two additional certifications (Clinical Coding Specialist and Clinical Documentation Specialist) within the next six months.

More importantly, Alonzo has found joy in leading by example with three of her children pursuing careers at STC and the University of Austin.

“One of the reasons I persevered was not just for myself but also to motivate my children and my family. Now, everybody is asking me what my next degree will be, but I just truly enjoy being a lifelong learner,” she said. “I never would have imagined I would be here, from when I started, struggling in nursing school with a newborn, to today, working from home and enjoying my kids. I would encourage anyone to just go for it. Sometimes you don’t even know how you do it, but you do. Just take the first step.”

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