I got my first job involving a paycheck through a work-study program when I was a senior in high school. I’d been accepted into the occupational therapy program at UNH starting in the fall—-a good choice, I thought, for blending my volunteer work with the intellectually disabled, my leanings toward the medical field, and my yearning to be with my boyfriend and future husband who was already enrolled there. (Yes, I blatantly followed a boy to college and, 48 years later, I’d do it all again.)
I don’t think the work-study program in Rochester, NH, had a whole ton of options back then. But faculty and business leaders did their best to place students somewhere within striking distance of their chosen occupations. And for me, being a nurse’s aide (CNA) in a nursing home was in my “healthcare” ballpark.
My mother and sister were nurses, and I think I would have made a great nurse, too, if I’d gotten past my aversion to blood. Bedpans, sponge baths, and spoon feeding were no problem. But the minute a patient needed an IV started or started spewing red bodily fluid I’d be in danger of keeling over by their bedside. The RNs told me I’d get used to it (and a whole bunch of other “procedures”) if I went to nursing school. And I’ve sometimes wished I tested that theory because I’ve always felt “at home” in hospital environments.
As a work-study student, I could work a maximum of 20 hours per week. That usually equated to four half-shifts from 5 to 9 p.m. on school days, or a couple 8-hour shifts on weekends. I earned $1.80 an hour, enough to open a bank account, buy some really cute nursing uniforms, and feel the 17-year-old equivalent of “making it in the world.” The job also came with all the chocolates I could eat. Practically every resident had a box on their tray table, brought in by visitors who wanted to leave something sweet behind, even when sugar and/or chewing were not on Grammy or Grampy’s dietary plan. I loved those rooms, and the sweet souls who kept telling me a “slim young thing” like me could take all the Russell Stovers she wanted.
The job also gave me the impetus needed to go get my driver’s license. I was on my second weekend of needing to show up at 6:45 a.m. for my Saturday and Sunday day shifts when my parents’ confidence in my abilities to drive myself to work changed dramatically. Suddenly neither one of them wanted to drive me around or sit in the passenger seat “in case I wasn’t ready.” I got the car keys and they got more sleep…in theory, anyway.
I gained independence, learned to have patience with the fussiest of patients, and acquired unique skills that set me in good stead for the challenges of child, dog and elder care to come. To this day, I can mop up messes that would make others lose their lunch. And later remark how glad I am I never worked as a waitress or cashier because that would’ve been nasty.
As it turned out, I had to go through major hoops at UNH to follow my passion away from OT/healthcare and into a degree in journalism. It served me and my family well, though, especially when I traded my reporter’s hat for a tech writing “propeller head” beanie. And now I am pleased to give some of that back—-as a volunteer writer for the Center for Nursing Research and Quality Outcomes at Maine Medical Center!
For more autobiographical Q&As than you’ll have time to read, see
Building my life story one question at a time