Carolynn Lafountaine: From former patient to future health care provider
Eighteen-year-old Carolynn Lafountaine has survived a lot of medical complications in her young life. When she was three, she had open-heart surgery to repair a congenital defect – an event from which she has no lingering effects today.
Unfortunately, Carolynn can’t quite say the same for a much more routine medical procedure she had around the same time: having drainage tubes put in her ears to prevent chronic ear infections. Her eardrums never fully healed after the tubes were removed, and she wears hearing aids in both ears today – something you’d never guess when you meet her, since her long blonde hair covers her ears, and conversations – even phone calls – now come second nature to her.
But all of that landed Carolynn in hospitals and doctors’ offices a lot when she was a little girl, something that inspired her current career path; she’ll enroll at UVM in the fall and pursue her nursing degree. “[The hospital] was just always a really familiar place for me,” she says. “All of my nurses were so wonderful. I just wanted to grow up and be like that and make a difference for somebody else like they made for me.”
Carolynn had always been a strong student, so she knew she would go to college. But as a first-generation college student, her parents didn’t have any experience they could draw upon to teach her what she needed to do to get there.
“Having never gone themselves, they weren't really sure how to help,” she says. “I was, I guess, kind of independent about it. I didn't want to ask my parents questions that they didn't have the answers to.”
Fortunately, Carolynn got an early start on the college process through an “Intro to College Studies” course that was offered after school her sophomore year. The class covered things like SAT scores, the cost of college, and how to read a college textbook – “all this stuff that, as a first-generation student, I wouldn't have known about. It was really nice having some awareness going into the process two years later,” she says.
And because the class was taught by Monda Kelley, one of VSAC’s outreach counselors, it introduced Carolynn to the resources available through the VSAC organization. “Monda asked me, ‘Why aren’t you with VSAC right now?’ I signed up for GEAR UP after that,” Carolynn recalls.
Through the GEAR UP program, Carolynn had opportunities to participate in a medical career exploration program called MedQuest, where she got to attend workshops and do job shadows. “We learned about what to expect from college, and we heard about different programs to get us to different places in the medical field. We had some workshops where we actually got to do simulation labs, and we learned how to take blood pressure and all that.”
She also attended TRIO Days, where she had the opportunity to tour colleges, something that Carolynn found particularly valuable. “I didn't know how to set up a college tour,” she recalls.
Carolynn says that working with VSAC also helped her avoid spending money to visit a number of the schools on her initial list, once she realized that one of her most critical college criteria should be having a hospital on-site. “I didn't know what to look for in a college, but VSAC helped me narrow that down. Of the schools I was interested in, none of them had a hospital that was on-site, but UVM did. I just thought that was really convenient, not having to worry about transportation. As a nursing student in your junior and senior years, you'll be there every single day.”
VSAC also helped her pay for her AP, SAT and ACT exams, something that made a big difference for Carolynn in high school. Without that assistance, Carolynn says, “I think I would have been working so much throughout school [to pay for all of my exams and applications] that I might not have been able to do as well. I did have a job throughout high school, but it was only one or two days a week. VSAC made it so that I could study a lot more.”
Carolynn encourages high school students to admit what they don’t know and avail themselves of the help offered through VSAC. “When I first got involved [in VSAC], I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate. It was pride, I guess – the idea that I don’t need any help. But once I saw what applying to college involved, I overcame that quickly, and said, ‘yes, please help me!’ So my advice to others is to take all the help you can get. It’s going to make your life so much easier.”
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