Maria Bajwa was born to be in healthcare. As the daughter of a physician in rural Pakistan, Bajwa’s childhood home often doubled as a clinic. Maria’s mother graciously welcomed infirm members of the community into their home, where her father treated their needs, preventing them from having to travel hours to the nearest hospital. Dinner conversations always centered around medicine and when most little girls were playing with dolls, Maria was in her mother’s garden, “treating her patients” – the plants.
It was only fitting that Maria Bajwa follow her father and siblings into medicine. She completed her medical degree in Pakistan, where she specialized in obstetrics and gynecology.
When she relocated to the United States, Bajwa struggled to navigate the American higher education system. While many portions of the American and Pakistani medical education systems align, some areas, like medical residency, do not. This left Bajwa with a question, “Now, as a wife and mother, what can I do to feed my soul as a healthcare provider in the United States?”
That question spurred Maria to throw herself into the college search. She looked into programs at all academic levels at both public and private colleges and universities, and found SUNY Broome’s Medical Assisting program to be the best fit for her needs. While some may consider a physician training as a medical assistant to be a step backwards, Bajwa has only ever considered her studies at SUNY Broome to be an enriching step forward. “I am truly blessed to be educated. It was a blessing to be educated in Pakistan and it is a blessing to be educated here in the United States,” she reflected.
Being a non-traditional student, mother of three, and a non-native English speaker, did not stop Maria. To the contrary, she used all of the areas that could be considered collegiate stumbling blocks for some, as motivation to succeed as a SUNY Broome student.
Maria had to become a master of time management. This often meant waking up at 3:00 a.m. in order to finish her studying and assignments and have time to wake up her children, prepare their breakfast and lunch, and get them safely out the door to school. While her three children were in their respective classrooms, she came to campus, where she took a full load of courses each semester.
Bajwa was not afraid to ask for help and made the effort to take full advantage of the student support services offered across campus. “I was a fixture in the Math Lab and the Writing Center. English grammar can be incredibly complex, but I knew where to go for help,” she explained.
As Bajwa was completing her degree in Medical Assisting, she decided to continue her studies at SUNY Broome and entered the Health Information Technology program. Within three years, Bajwa earned two healthcare focused associate degrees, was admitted into Drexel University’s master’s program for Medical and Healthcare Simulation, and began working for SUNY Broome as a Technical Assistant for the Health Sciences division.
When Bajwa completed her master’s degree, she transitioned to the position of Clinical Instructor of Nursing, with a focus on Simulated Education. Under Bajwa’s instruction, SUNY Broome’s Nursing students expand their clinical knowledge through virtual simulated healthcare experiences. Healthcare simulation enables the students to practice clinical scenarios through life-like mannequins, as well as with trained standardized patients, in person and via distance and virtual simulations.
In the midst of building up SUNY Broome’s simulated education offerings and working on her PhD in Health Professions Education with the focus on Simulation from the MGH Institute of Health Professions, the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon the world.
“We, like the rest of the world, were totally unprepared. But I am so proud of our team. We had a dedicated and collective mindset and created a system that worked. Because of our collaborative efforts, we were able to maintain all of our sections simultaneously. This includes all lectures, labs, and clinical rotations. At one point, we had to set up two parallel systems for online and hybrid sections, in case any of our students or instructors were exposed to Covid on the frontlines and needed to quarantine. While many programs across the country were unable to graduate their students last year, we were approved, because of our highly detailed plan,” she explained.
One of the key reasons that SUNY Broome’s Nursing program was able to thrive during the pandemic was due to Bajwa’s innovative plan for a distance learning modality of healthcare simulation. She presented her integrated simulation standards that she developed for SUNY Broome at the International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare.
Bajwa never hesitates to share her support of SUNY Broome and her desire for the college’s success. “We are a small program, but that does not mean that we offer a small education. We have a big opportunity to provide a quality education to our future local providers. Statistically, if you live in this community, you will be treated by a SUNY Broome educated clinician. It is my job and my goal to make sure that we have trained these future healthcare professionals to provide premiere care for our children, our neighbors, and for us,” she said.