Hazelee Cox, a phlebotomy technician, serves as the first point of medical contact for some Northwest Arkansas cancer patients at their oncology appointments.
A few years ago, Cox, 21, was serving customers hamburgers and fries at McDonald’s after graduating from high school in Rogers, but she wanted to do something else. Earlier this year, she used training funded by a federal grant to the University of Arkansas to learn the skills she needed to launch a career in health care.
“I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” Cox said. “I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to end up, but I did know that I wanted to be in health care. It’s a big passion of mine.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic started, Cox saw job advertisements for covid screeners. She left McDonald’s and started working as a covid screener at Willow Creek Women’s Hospital in Johnson. Seeking something more for her life, she went to the U of A website and put “health care” into the search bar. That led her to a phlebotomy technician course offered through the Professional Workforce Development division of the University of Arkansas Global Campus. From there, she saw that she might qualify for federal funding to take the phlebotomy course for free through the Reimagine Arkansas Workforce Project.
By the time she found the Reimagine website, Cox was working two health-related jobs, part-time nursing assistant and unit secretary at Willow Creek Women’s Hospital and full-time physicians’ scheduler at Highlands Oncology in Fayetteville. She was a little apprehensive at first about enrolling in an online course at the same time, but she applied and got the funding.
“This course was self-paced,” Cox said. “It was online, it was 100 percent whenever you had the time to pick it up and get going on your future … It did get tricky, trying to juggle work and the class, but I’m so glad that I did because it’s changed my life. I was kind of skeptical, but I went with my heart.”
Cox also completed the externship associated with the course, logging 30 sticks and 40 hours of practice at Highlands. The Highlands Oncology office in Springdale offered her the job of phlebotomist in August before she finished the externship. She strives to make a sometimes-unsettling process as comfortable as possible.
“My job as a phlebotomist entails me performing venipunctures on patients, and a venipuncture can be a very scary thing for someone, especially with our cancer patients that are going through such a hard time already,” Cox said. “We’ve got to be very kind and compassionate with our patients. They’re going through a really rough time in their lives, and it’s just really important to us to have compassion being the first contact of care with our patients.”
Staff of the Professional and Workforce Development division developed the Reimagine program after the U.S. Department of Education in 2020 awarded $13,579,455.83 to the Arkansas Workforce Development Board and the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services to pay for online job training for Arkansas residents. People who live in neighboring states and work in Arkansas can also apply for free training. Funds from Reimagine are limited to one course offered through Professional and Workforce Training. Other funding sources may be available for people interested in taking additional courses. The Global Campus, through Professional and Workforce Development, offers online training eligible for Reimagine funding in more than 100 noncredit courses.
There is still time to apply for Reimagine funding to take an online job training course for free. More information and the application are available online.
Cox would recommend Reimagine and U of A training programs.
“If there’s anyone out there looking through these programs and looking at the Reimagine Arkansas program, I would really like to encourage you to apply for that course that you really think that you want to take, something that you might start a career in, something that you might love,” she said. “It’s super important that we do what we love at work because we’re going to be doing it for the rest of our lives.”