GCC student comes full circle with career choice

April 10, 2009

Robyn LaFerriere knew she wanted to become a nurse since her early 20s. Now 50, she is two semesters from achieving that dream as a graduate of Greenfield Community College.

“When I first started, I thought, ‘What am I doing here with all these kids?’ But it didn’t take long to find community,” she said. “Overall, I have found GCC to be an open and accepting school working towards inclusion of the students regardless of their difference. So far, the greatest experience I have had is the combining of a large mix of age groups and cultures which creates a situation where multiple perspectives are blended, providing greater diversity in thinking and learning. A beautiful thing in my world.”

LaFerriere works part time as a massage therapist at The Underground health spa (www.theundergounddayspa.com) in Northampton, while studying full time.

She entered the health care profession when she was about 23 as an emergency medical technician in Springfield. It was then that she was drawn to nursing.

Throughout hospital emergency rooms in the Pioneer Valley, she was inspired by the nurses, who, she said, “always struck me as practical, direct, and efficient care givers helping people through some very difficult times. That’s what I wanted to be.”

When her father became ill, LaFerriere was taken aback by the limitations of services Medicare covered for people who wanted to stay at home. She then empowered herself to manage her father ’s caregiving situation.

“As a response to that, I put together a team of independent personal care providers, accessed what I could through the local elderly service providers, and provided 24 hours a day, one-on-one services at a lower cost than what a nursing home could offer,” she said. “When it came time for hospice care, I was reintroduced to the art and science of nursing. The skill, dedication, and compassion of the hospice nurses and CNAs working with my dad and me in preparing us for his death was life-changing.”

It is this creativity and devotion that has earned LaFerriere high praise. “She’s able to put all the pieces together,” said Cheri Ducharme, GCC’s Associate Degree Nursing Coordinator. “She’s intuitive.” Michael Archbald, owner and manager of Collective Home Care in South Deerfield, said LaFerriere personifies “what care giving really means – caring, compassionate.”

During her father’s illness, LaFerriere was appalled by the inequities in health care based on income.

“When I needed a break, I would go to Northampton, walk around, and talk with the folks living on the streets. As we became acquainted, they would tell me their stories about the treatment they received from the health care system,” she said. “Many of the folks I met were living with untreated physical and/or mental illness. Granted, some lived that way by choice, but the majority went untreated because of their lack of insurance, money, or a compliant nature, which led to their marginalized status within the health care system and society.”

For her, health care is as much about taking care of someone as social justice.

“I do not have any illusions about changing the system but my focus will be on working with marginalized communities,” she said.

In the meantime, as a massage therapist, she continues to probe what ails a client and goes to the source of the pain.

“In traditional western medicine, the primary approach would be to treat and correct the symptoms rather than treating the whole person. This is a fine approach for acute care, but I was looking for something more. Massage therapy certainly treats particular symptoms with success but I find that the most interesting aspect of massage therapy and what drew me to the practice is the work surrounding the integration of the whole person.”

For LaFerriere, providing health care is also a healing lesson.

“What I hope clients remember about their time with me is that their experience was relaxing and healing, that their needs were addressed, and that they left with a better sense of self in their bodies.”