A sense of accomplishment and pride filled the air Friday afternoon as graduates at the Pima Medical Institute celebrated their years of hard work.

More than 300 students received their diplomas in various healthcare programs including nursing, pharmacy technician, and occupational therapy.

One of the keynote speakers, Erica Olivares, a third-generation student at PMI, received her degree in respiratory therapy.

“I think I found my passion being a CNA. I’ve always wanted to take care of people,” she said. “And the minute that I started, I knew that that is what I was meant to do.”

PMI’s graduation comes at a critical time as Arizona faces a severe shortage of healthcare workers.

According to the Arizona Board of Regents, nearly 3 million Arizonans have limited access to primary care while one in three state hospitals faces staffing shortages.

“We need everyone, we need the help, and we need passionate caregivers,” Olivares said.

“It gives me great confidence that the healthcare that I get, I’m getting from my graduates,” said Dick Luebke, PMI’s Chairman of the Board when asked about the shortage of healthcare workers in Arizona.

Luebke, who is also the son of the school’s founder, Richard Luebke Sr., expressed confidence that Friday’s graduates will make an impact in a field that’s desperate for workers.

“It really goes back to why they’re here in the first place, which is to serve other people,” he said. “They have to first and foremost know they’re in a giving profession. They’re taking care of another human being.”

PMI was founded by Richard Luebke in 1972. To date, the school has graduated over 150,000 students.