Switching Careers: New paths in medicine and entrepreneurship

Even before the recession started, Michigan was shedding jobs. It remains one of the hardest hit states, with the unemployment rate clocking in at 15.4%. Officials in Detroit, the state's largest city, believe their city's rate is as high as 50%.

As the automobile industry reinvents itself, former workers have also had to switch gears. Tina Maule is one who retooled herself and is now working in medicine. She and Jill Bernheimer, a Los Angeles-based film producer turned wine merchant, share their stories of reinvention.

Tina Maule: Retraining to Help

Tina Maule had been working in Michigan's automotive plants since she graduated from high school in 1980. When she learned in 2005 that her second factory job was heading to the dustbin because the company, Kelsey Hayes, was moving to Mexico by the end of the year, she knew it was time to get out.
"South Central Michigan Works came out to our place of work and gave us opportunities to explore getting a new job and education," says Maule, now 47. "Even though factory work ensured a good paycheck, I always yearned for a career in the medical field because I wanted to help people. Thanks to South Central Michigan Works and a federal trade adjustment program called the Trade Readjustment Allowance, I was given a shot at my dream."

In August 2006, the mother of two enrolled in the medical assistant program at Jackson Community College in Jackson, MI. It was hard work being a full-time student, a wife and a mom of two teenagers, but she made it thanks to support from her husband and many others, including Michigan Works' TRA program, which helped pay for the more than $1,500-a-semester tuition.

Maule graduated two years later, in May 2008, with a certificate in medical assisting and an associate degree in applied science. After passing the state exam in October and finishing an externship with Dr. Brad Bivens, she's now a certified medical assistant employed at Allegiance Health.

"I had tried to go to college when my children were young but found that too much to handle," says Maule. "Now in my 40s, I thought it was too late. It was pretty scary but the opportunity was too good to pass up."

She adds, "Never give up on your dream. If you really want it, it is there for the taking. There are a lot of state and government programs out there right now, programs that have never been here before. Check them out. You will be glad you did!"

Jill Bernheimer: Tapping into her passion

After paying her dues and clawing her way from movie assistant to independent producer with studio deals in the hopper, Jill Bernheimer thought she had made it. Yet, despite 10 years in the film industry, she was hitting a brick wall.

"Those features were not getting made," she recalls. "This was frustrating both creatively as well as financially. A plan B seemed to become necessary."

While her producing partner was on maternity leave in 2006, she decided to pursue her passion for wine and asked the owner of her favorite wine store if she could shadow him. She learned a lot about the business and became so fascinated by it that a few months later, she came up with the idea to launch a community-oriented Web site and blog that was also a wine retailer.

Before launching Domaine547 in 2007, Bernheimer, now 38, took classes with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. She also spent $5,500 of her own money to get the Web site up and running and acquire the necessary license to sell vino.

The Web site was a hit but she realized a year and a half later that she was ready to commit to a brick and mortar store. This turned out to be bigger project than expected. As the economy ground to a halt, she geared up, spending $150,000 to renovate a 2,000-square foot former convenience store on Melrose Avenue. She fell in love with the space on October 2008, and opened for business on Labor Day 2009.

"I had a lot more freedom both as an independent producer and running an online-only business," Bernheimer said. "Because I have a very limited operating budget, I am at the store seven days a week, and do most everything myself. This leaves me exhausted a lot of the time, but I make up for that with plenty of adrenaline that the motivation to succeed provides."

The decision to switch paths may not have been planned but she thinks it was the right choice.

"I used to over-think every career move I made in the film industry," she said. "When I made the transition to wine, everything just seemed to make sense and fall into place. I didn't hesitate at all. The lack of hesitation gave me the added confidence I needed to take what was ultimately a very big risk."

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