Starting in the US
And I did go back to my country, but it took me a couple of years. I decided to get my National Board Licensing as an RN. I worked for about two years at St. Luke’s hospital, where I started at 16 in the kitchen. I was going into nursing and I was already hitting the ground running. I kept moving upwards: I went into intensive care, became a head nurse, supervisor—I was just moving in the profession.
By 1973, I was hired by a Canadian company in the Dominican Republic to help them open a new medical center as their nursing director—I was only 23. And I said I would do it. It was crazy for me to assume such a high level of responsibility, but I was fearless. I was interested in being in my country. So I went back. By that time, I had already met American men and men from other countries. One American man had finished medical school at Columbia. I had met him at St. Luke’s Hospital, where he was interning his first year there and I was an intensive care nurse.
Returning to the DR
But anyway, I went to the Dominican Republican and by then I knew these guys here and I worked in the DR for a year. Having removed myself from the culture, I found it was a bit jarring to go back. I had been away for almost six years. The level of independence, initiative, and self-sufficiency that I had developed in this culture was not valued or was seen with suspicion in my country.
In the DR, they believed that young women belonged to a family. They were not to be independent professionals carrying on a lifestyle with their own home. So there I rented a home; I shared it with other young women who were teachers and I was very independent-minded. Coming from the US, I had begun to integrate both spectrums of the culture and to rake them together into who I was becoming. I had managed to work as a professional where women my age were very independent, free to choose, and very mobile. And I had already enjoyed some of that mobility—I was now living at home, I was traveling; I was doing things I was interested in doing and making decisions about my future independent of my family, independent of anyone else.
So it was interesting to go to the Dominican Republic and see myself through those lens—the fact that I had integrated two cultures and tried to live under that framework in my country was unrealistic. It was absolutely unrealistic. In my country, at that time in the 1960s, you just didn’t have a young woman, age 23, living in the neighborhood in a home by herself. And I wasn’t even living alone; I was living in a home with two other women who were teachers—we rented a home together—but that was unheard of in my country. Before that, I rented my own room until I was able to rent with these other two women.
The community who knew me didn’t relate to me very well because I was too independent, And I think there were ways in which I felt very empowered after I graduated, even though it was an Associate’s degree program. I felt empowered, in because I was a first-generation in my family: my mother had third-grade education, my brothers did not finish high school, and I was the one venturing out, going to college and earning a college degree. So there was something empowering about that that deceptively allowed me to think that I could manage fairly well in my country. I could manage professionally, but not culturally—I could no longer integrate; I could no longer adapt myself to their expectations.I had acquired values and further skills in the US that were actually a liability for me in country—in my culture—unless I went to school there—and I wasn’t ready to do that. I didn’t have the resources to go to school, to go into medicine in the DR.
So very quickly, it became clear to me that the DR was not a place where I was going to get established, unless I went back
Returning to NYC
I was already seeing this man, John, and we had been traveling and meeting each other in different places in the Caribbean, so I came back to the US. By age 24, in 1974, I returned to the US and went back to St. Luke’s Hospital to work as a nurse in intensive care. It was then that I decided to pursue my baccalaureate, so that’s when I went to Long Island University and completed the two years for the baccalaureate, and afterwards, continued on to Columbia Teacher’s College for my Masters in Nursing Education. At that time, it was called “Staff Development,” but it was actually a part of Nursing Education. I had wanted to take one or two additional courses to continue on to a M.Ed., but after I graduated, John was already a practicing attending, and he was offered a position at Dartmouth College.
Moving to New England
So all of a sudden, I found myself in a midst of a sort of cultural interruption. I had thoughts about a M.Ed., but then John and I got married, and I came up here in 1980, settling in Norwich, VT. At that point, I had to re-establish myself professionally, so I had to invest time in that. And getting a job here, learning the culture again—it was a whole new culture, a whole new social structure and environment. New England—it’s a wonderful place, but I hadn’t really appreciated how limiting it would be for me.
I started off as an Intensive Care Nurse at the Veterans Administration Hospital in White River Junction, then became clinical nursing instructor at Colby Sawyer College in New London; pursued some work as a lecturer and associate professor; and did some research and nursing at DHMC. I developed a lot of skills in administration, teaching, and program coordination, but the transition was hard.
Right now, I work as Continuing Care Manager and Clinical Resource Coordinator at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. I have for a number of years now, probably since 2007, been doing care coordination in nursing, which involves looking at a patient’s situation and having a conversation with a patient or family about what life will be like at home after their hospitalization, what services can best meet their needs and how to continue using the services available to them—be it in the community or the hospital. It has also involved a fair amount of advocacy, because it involved either those that are disabled or elderly, and advocating for their needs and their rights. It’s not unlike what I do in the Dominican Republic right now, so it’s been a very interesting match.
My daytime job has been flexible and it was maybe nine years ago that I made the conscious decision to be per diem, which means I’m informed when I’m needed and I let them know when I’ll be available, so that has worked out really well. You know, I have the great privilege of being able to do that—not everyone can do that.
In addition, I’m also Senior Deacon in my church, and have been on their Board for a number of years; these are committees that look at social justice and social missions around the world. Through my efforts, I have been able to influence some things that have gone on in the church and certainly rally support for the work that I was doing in the DR. It is another vital part of my life in Norwich.