The Transformative Nature of Education!

There is so much controversy over education right now.  Prices of a degree can be difficult for many people and the job market makes many question the value of a degree.  There are many articles out there with statistics telling people whether a college degree is worth it.  For the most part, everything I have read seems to show a higher level of income for degree earners in many fields, but this post is going to explore something else.  Education is not just about the income that will be earned later.  Education holds a treasure that goes beyond the paycheck, it is transformative for the learner.

As a college student who has spent six years juggling full-time education and a family to earn two degrees, I can say I have gained much more than I anticipated from my years in college.  Perhaps it is the fact that I am at an all women’s day college right now, but I have become truly empowered.  I have found the professors at Cedar Crest College to be inspiring, always challenging me to become stronger and better.  The small class sizes instill an environment of collaboration, and I have gained much from this.  I have learned to speak about my beliefs and ideas with conviction, and I have grown as a public speaker.  I have gained confidence and determination.  I am an active leader who takes charge and builds professional relationships with people based on trust.  I can collaborate, network, negotiate, and accomplish more that I though possible.  I have changed drastically.

Beyond the skills I have attained and the confidence I have built, I have also learned a great deal about myself.  I have found that I am passionate about more than writing.  I now know that I love leadership roles and teamwork.  I enjoy being challenged, and I have a passion for advocacy roles in various areas.  I have learned that my career goals can be expanded and I can aim for more than I intended.  My education has given me the gift of knowledge about the business world, and the analytical thinking skills needed to solve and analyze problems.  It has also helped to uncover the potential I had hidden deep inside myself.  While there are debates about the value of education all over the web, I find the lessons I have learned to be invaluable.

I will carry my education with me as I move forward into a rewarding life because I am now much richer than when I began college.  Richer, in the sense that the treasure I have is a better understanding of myself and a realization that the possibilities for my future are limitless.  In fact, I now know that the only thing that ever truly limited me from reaching for my dreams before was myself.  I could never put a price tag on the education I have received because its value cannot be measured.  Confidence, empowerment, skills, friendships, connections, and personal growth are worth the student loans I will owe and so much more.  I know not every student will have the same experience, but that is because they choose not to.  We can make our education great by tapping into each resource offered, and becoming involved.  This is how I made the most of my education, and it has truly transformed me.  I hope more young men and women choose to do the same because it can make the difference between a career at the end, or a struggle.


Why “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg Can Help You!

I have heard fellow business students speak about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In” over the past semester and knew I had to read it.  I am not sure if it is the fact that the business world is evolving and women are taking more risks, or if it is because I attend an all women’s day college, but the popularity of this book is making its mark.  I have lofty goals and know the glass ceiling still exists in many ways for women.  As soon as my semester was over, I dove into this book.  The main concept that is discussed in this book is the fact that women tend to steer clear of the table, when they should be willing to sit down, even if they are the only woman, and “lean in.”  It is necessary for women to become more involved in the business, the dialog, the negotiations, and to not fear discussing important topics.

Sandberg even goes as far as discussing the need for women to speak about their family choices such as having a baby, and to not turn down opportunities because they think their pregnancy or children will affect it.  Instead, they should determine the choice they make based on their desires.  I have seen how women limit themselves, and I am a shining example of this as I have always put others ahead of myself, until recently.  I think Sandberg makes an important point because women tend to remain silent when they should be speaking up!  It is crucial for women to know where they are going and what they want.

As more equality is found in the workplace, more fathers will need to step up, and I have seen this happening as well.  My husband is incredibly supportive, and while I can nitpick and say he is not taking on enough housework, he takes on a great deal of the work with the kids.  I assume that as I work more outside of the home, he will step up even more and take on housework.  Sandberg shows the unfortunate seclusion men face when they become the primary caregivers for their children, and this dynamic also needs to change if women are to rely on them more.  The important thing is for the dialog to continue so changes can be made.  Women need to “lean in” because their opinions and challenges matter.  Without an equal say, there cannot be an equal society.

Sandberg brings up important topics, some of which are already widely discussed, but her overall message is important to the development of women in the workforce.  There are many things I will take away from this book, but more importantly, when I find myself backing away from a situation because I am one of the only women, or I am nervous, I will “lean in.”

Advocacy Blog Series: Caregivers for the Elderly

This topic is going to become more prevalent as the years pass because while the elderly population is significant now, it is going to become much larger with the baby boomers reaching retirement age.  The care of the elderly has been split from nursing homes, to families.  Ideally, elderly patients would like to remain as independent as they can for as long as they can, but inevitably, the body breaks down, memories begin to falter, and independent living becomes impossible.  This is where decisions need to be made, and it is a truly complex process.  Some patients need more help than the families can or will provide and nursing homes are the only option.  If the family cannot pay, there are government run homes, but the quality of care may be a concern.  If the family can pay, there are plenty of options depending on the level of care.  However, more often, families are choosing to care for their family member.  It is often a child caring for their parent, and it can be a challenge.  This is where advocacy comes in.  Caregivers are the advocate for their “patient,” and with the way health care is set up, it can be incredibly difficult.

One of the problems with health care right now is that it is not built for the patient as a whole.  Most elderly patients have many problems, and they need to see many different doctors.  This needs to be monitored closely by the caregiver because with multiple doctors, there can be something missed, or too many medications prescribed.  It may seem odd for so many doctors to miss something, but if they are looking at one specific organ or system in the body, and not treating the person as a whole, they may treat a symptom of a larger problem.  Often, medications can interact with each other, and if one doctor does not have all of the information from another doctor, they may prescribe medication that could be problematic.  How can a caretaker manage this and provide the care their loved one needs?

Organization is the key.  A book should be kept with copies of doctors names, medications, diagnoses, and other pertinent health information.  As much as technology can help, there should be a paper copy that can be brought to each appointment and shown to each provider.  My mom is a caregiver for her father and sister-in-law.  She keeps records of everything, maintains them, and brings them to each appointment.  The reality is, her memory is shaky at times, and she is under a great deal of stress as a caregiver.  It is a difficult job, why make it more difficult by trying to remember everything.  Keeping thorough notes eliminates the additional stress she would have without the notes.  This also makes it easier if my father needs to take over at an appointment because my mom is ill, or if I need to go to the house to take over so they can get a break.

Caring for the elderly also requires nerves of steel because dealing with the continual problem of insurance can be tiresome and even a battle at times.  Ensuring the patient has everything they need may also require a battle or negotiation with the insurance and providers.  The patient may be violent or angry which is common in Alzheimer patients.  They may get depressed, upset, lose control of their bowels in public, and many other potential problems.  This means the caregiver must be ready to handle any complication, despite the feelings that may stem from them.  It is not an easy job, and the caregiver has to be prepared.  They may have a  patient who does not want to follow medical orders.  They must be their advocate and either enforce care, or enforce freedom.  Advocacy is not always what one pictures.  Sometimes, you have to make a decision you do not like because it is the wish of the patient that matters.  Sometimes you have to assert control if you feel their decisions endanger them.

Caregivers of the elderly are more than advocates, they are friends and companions.  They are the ones comforting the elderly as they lose their memories, suffer pain, and go through loss.  They stand up for them when it comes to their health care and insurance, and perhaps in other situations as well.  The healthcare system in place has not made this job easier, and it is up to the caregiver to navigate a broken system and try to see when miscommunications lie between the various doctors and hospitals treating their patient.  Caregiving can be thankless.  As my mother says, “Sometimes the payment is a smile and laugh that you get at the end of the day.”


Advocacy Blog Series: Parents as Advocates

I think it is crucial to discuss the aspect of advocacy that blends into the role of parenting.  When a child is born, the parent is automatically the advocate unless the child is a ward of the state or another family member.  There is an instant responsibility that goes deeper than basic care and devotion.  Every time that child has a problem, is ill, needs supportive services in school, requires a legal guardian for sports, or anything else, the parent falls into the role and becomes the child’s advocate.  Some parents take to this quite easily, and if they are lucky, they will make it through the 18 years of guardianship without a hiccup.  However, it is likely that something will happen.  The child will probably be hospitalized at some point, they may require counseling for depression or more severe mental illnesses, they may be a victim of bullying or abuse, and they may have a physical illness.  It is almost guaranteed that a parent will face at least one serious issue where they must advocate for their child.

What does this mean?  It means you must be willing to be informed, to question, to learn, research, have sleepless nights, make tough decisions, and do whatever else may be necessary to help your child get the help they need.  The system, whether educational, medical, state, or judicial, should be there to support you and your child as well, but things can go wrong.  Even the people working in the system may make misinformed decisions, stereotypical assumptions, or mistakes.  This is why it is so important for parents to put the extra effort in.  here are a few examples:

When my son struggled with mental health issues that threatened the safety of my family, we had to research his conditions, understand the medications, seek residential care, and fight the doctor who attempted to place him in a group home where he would have ended up in the state system.  It was not easy.  In fact, most of my days were spent researching, making phone calls, or sending emails.  The one truly important lesson I took away from this situation was the need to document everything.  When the doctor was acting unethically, I began to copy very detailed emails about his plans and our concerns to people in the government, at the top of the insurance company, and advocacy agencies.  This had a major impact, all info was documented, and he was fired.  We were able to get my son into a facility that was able to help him.

When my daughter was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, we were shocked at first.  Thankfully, I had an incredible woman at the hospital who was an advocate for me as I tried to get my daughter on SSI.  It was a nightmare, and I had suffered abuse over the phone from my local SSI representative.  I was not strong enough at this point to fight, but this woman helped me, she fought for me, and was a perfect example of why advocacy is important.  After I grew stronger, and did some research, my life became about doing everything I could to care for my daughter.  My husband and I were proactive, we kept medication logs, medical records, notes, and anything we could to help track her care between surgeries.  This was another example of the need for documentation, but also the realization that outside help from an advocate can be incredibly helpful.

Finally, in the educational arena, we have had to work very closely with my son’s schools to accommodate his disabilities.  He has had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) since he was in kindergarten, and it was very useful.  For a parent, it can be confusing at first, but there are a few things you can do to help.  First, read the school’s handbook, next, research IEPs, and look at specific state regulations.  Pay attention to your child and how he/she learns, responds, calms, or reacts at home.  Take notes on a regular basis about things that help and things that do not.  This is information you can supply in IEP meetings.  The more knowledgeable you are about the school system and what accommodations can be made, the better you can be at advocating for your child.  You also need to be open to recommendations.  If something doesn’t feel right, say no, but listen to reasoning first, and do not be afraid to ask questions.

These are only a few examples, but they truly express the ones that stand out to me as learning experiences.  Every parent will need to step into this role in some way, and some more than others.  Do not fault yourself for mistakes, or feel guilty when you miss something.  There are handbooks everywhere, but none that can truly guide you in your specific situation.  As an advocate, it often feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, but if you reach out for others, you may be surprised at who is there, and who has been through similar experiences.  Please feel free to share your experiences.


Advocacy Blog Series: Narrative Medicine

So what is Narrative Medicine, and how can it help in advocacy?  Continuing from yesterday’s post, I want to explore the communication gap between medical professionals and patients or caregivers.  Unfortunately, there are many cases where a patient or caregiver is afraid to speak up or not sure how to speak with a medical professional.  They may feel ignored or mistreated in some way.  This is not always the professionals fault.  In fact, the burden is often carried equally due to miscommunication, lack of knowledge, or because of other issues.

In my experience as a parent with two sick children.  I have had to be a strong advocate for them.  There were many instances where I was ignored because the professional did not feel I knew or understood my child’s condition.  In fact, my daughter’s heart condition required extremely low oxygen saturation between her first and second surgery.  If her oxygen was turned up, it could flood her lungs and cause serious problems.  One nurse came into her hospital room and attempted to turn up her oxygen when she saw how low her sats were, and I had to assert myself and my knowledge.  She did not want to listen and I demanded she go read my daughter’s chart while I turned the oxygen back down.  Needless to say, she did apologize and a note was put on the oxygen control to warn anyone else.

I had some other problems with incorrect medication dosage, but for the most part, the professionals I worked with were incredible.  In fact, at Denver Children’s Hospital where 3/4 of my daughter’s hospitalizations were, we had doctors who listened and stood by us.  My daughter’s cardiologist always remembered her and us, and that personal touch made me feel like he saw her for the little girl she was, not just a patient.  This is not always the case.  Many people have different experiences.  Professionals are pushed harder to get patients in and out as quickly as possible.  Technologies are introduced that make fields a drop down box and tale the personal storytelling out of patient care.  This is where patients begin to feel alienated in a sterile environment and professionals feel analytical instead of connected.  This is why narrative medicine can help.

Columbia University is the pioneer of the narrative Medicine program, and I highly recommend a visit to their site.  The work they do is incredible and it was headed by Rita Charon.  You can watch her YouTube video below.

In my own Narrative Medicine class with Gillian Pidcock, I learned a great deal about the process and how beneficial it can be for various people.  As a person who wishes to be an advocate and a writer who helps parents and caregivers with sick family members, I see how this process can benefit me.  In health advocacy, often stories of trauma are held onto.  We keep these stories in when they need to be born into the world.  If we can help our patients find a way to express what ails them through writing their narrative, we can lessen the heavy load they bear.  If we can help medical professionals let go of the clinical side of their job and connect to stories where they were challenged by a situation or where they felt the humanity in what they do, we can help professionals connect to their patients a little more.  We can also help people let go of the stress these stories contain.  Narrative Medicine can benefit patients, caregivers, family members, professionals, and anyone else who works in this field and more.

As an advocate, think about the ways narrative can spread.  If the medical field can benefit, so can social work, law enforcement, psychology, and so much more.  As humans, we want to open up, share our stories.  It is natural and beneficial to do so.  Please share any comments you may have on this important subject.


Advocacy Blog Series: Advocacy Defined and Explored in Health Care

We hear about advocacy often, but how can we define it?  Advocacy is a part of various careers, and can become a massive part of one’s personal life.  The simple definition is the way in which a person influences others to take up a cause, support a policy, or help with decision making.  Advocates work in social work, politics, law, public relations, policy making, education, medical fields, and many other fields.  Advocates can be the ones standing by children who have been abused as they walk into a courtroom, they may help special needs children get the educational help they need.  Mentally ill individuals rely on advocates as they face treatment, juvenile offenders need advocates as they face the criminal justice system.  The fact is, advocacy is everywhere.  It is a part of society as we seek to help those who need help.  Some advocates are removed from the situation, but help to write the laws that will ultimately protect individuals.  Some are inspired by an experience in their lives that helped them to see what changes were needed.

Why is advocacy so important?  It is important because many systems are broken.  As the world continues to grow, technology advances, and societal expectations change, more individuals begin to see the need for change.  Because everyone is different, one person may prefer the hands on work with individuals who need their help, and others may prefer to lobby and become an activist.

I have seen many systems that need change, and I plan to work in advocacy.  However, I am still trying to determine how I can best make a difference.  I love to write and plan to write a book to help parents with sick children to become advocates for their children, but as I have moved along in life, I have found even more battles that need to be fought.  I have found the medical system to be broken for both physical and mental health.  I have seen my parents as caregivers struggle to get the correct care for our loved ones.  I, as a mother to two special needs children, had to fight the system.  This should not be the case.  Parents and caregivers have enough stress, and the healthcare system  is supposed to make people better, not worse.  The bigger the divide becomes between caregivers, patients, and professionals, the more the care is affected.  Humanity seems to be a thing of the past, and I am finding that I wish to fight for better communication between these two sides.  How can a bridge be built when the funding is supporting a bigger gulf.

This is a topic which is finding its way into more places from blogs, to news, to a whole field at Columbia University called Narrative Medicine.  People do not want healthcare to continue on this path, they want to connect to professionals.  Many professionals find that they do not have the time to care for patients like they thought they would.  If both sides are unhappy, the system is not working, and people need to rise up to initiate change.  Like any great battle, it does not happen quickly, it must be fought from various angles, and this is why more people need to become advocates.  More people need to be strong, and stand up for their beliefs, their loved ones, and themselves.  I would love to hear others comments about this issue.


Advocacy Blog Series Begins Tomorrow!

I want to say thank you to all of my followers!  I have decided to continue the process of writing a series each week.  I have had a great deal of positive feedback, and it allows me to look at various issues even closer or from different angles.  I did the Empowering Women Series this week, but I want to tackle something very near and dear to me this week — Advocacy.  Advocacy is incredibly important in various careers, but also on a personal level.  People advocate for themselves, for family members, for friends, and neighbors.  It is something that fills our lives in ways we do not even realize.  I will write about various aspects of advocacy while also relating personal stories or experience from my own life.  Please join me this week as I journey  into this important topic!