With a Little Luck
Single mom climbs out of financial hardship to carve out a career in nursing
That’s the journey of Vernetta Parsons from 14-year-old hospital volunteer through the welfare system to charge nurse on the med/surg floor of Bannock Regional Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho.”A lot of people are surprised when they find out I was on welfare. I’m not ashamed of it,” Parsons said. “But I didn’t like it. I hated food stamps every month for six years.”Still, she considers herself lucky on two counts: She had the good counsel of a clergyman who persuaded her in 1990 that welfare was the best way for a newly divorced mother of three children to go to school and eventually provide for them. And she was able to make the system work.At 43, Parsons is marking her sixth year as an RN, and each has been a step away from the days in Colorado Springs, Colo., when low-income housing, with rent of about $50 a month, was a blessing. “I was a single mom on welfare and it didn’t look very good,” Parsons said. “I was lucky enough to get into some programs for single moms that paid for child care.”A now-defunct federal program paid for CNA training, which led to part-time housekeeping with a home health agency. Pell grants covered prerequisites for a BSN degree when, in 1994, Parsons was admitted into the associate degree nursing program at Pikes Peak Community College. With an additional summer course, the program led to an LPN license in her final year of school, a position in a nursing home and RN credentials after graduation.She chose to settle in Idaho for its relatively low cost of living and to be near her aging parents.In a hospital such as Bannock Regional Medical Center, with 20 beds on the med/surg floor and fewer than 150 total, nurses tend to float a lot, Parsons said. She also has worked in ICU, but said she intends to remain on the med/surg night shift for the foreseeable future because she still has a lot to learn.”Last year, the idea of charging on a hospital floor scared the daylights out of me and it still does a little bit,” Parsons said. “But I’ve done it and I’ve done OK. I really admire the nurses that have been around for a while, even the LPNs.” Just as graduate nurses go to her when she is supervisor, she said she often goes to long-time LPNs for advice. “It doesn’t matter what their license is.”Eventually, though, Parson said she’d like a role in long-term care reform. “Don’t get me wrong, nursing homes have improved greatly since the ’70s, but they can still use some more. I would like to have something to do with the better treatment of residents. I’ve seen too many employees who are there just for the paycheck.”Parsons said her talent, and perhaps the reason she followed up on her first experience as a candy striper to be a nurse, seems to be an ability to appease difficult or demanding people. That has ranged from reviewing a meds sheet with a grumpy relative who didn’t like that a loved one in a nursing home was receiving generic medication, to caring for a hospitalized psychiatrist who liked to have a glass of milk warmed in the middle of the night.Additionally, she said, at Bannock Regional, “We have the typical amount of alcoholics and drug abusers and confused people. If you treat them with respect, they really mellow out.”Parsons said her last and biggest struggle to overcome her welfare past is internal, a matter of self-esteem and forever banishing the thought that “I’m not that type of person.”Despite professional and personal success (she recently purchased her first home), “I need people to say, ‘Hey, good job,’ ” Parsons said.Recognition, though, is something every RN appreciates.”It’s hard when you see a letter from a family member or a gift to everybody and they’ll mention the nurses who took care of them,” Parsons said. “And you were one of them but they didn’t mention you because you worked nights. Even though you shouldn’t need that, that’s really kind of tough.”
Contact Phil McPeck at [email protected].