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Shaftsbury’s John Dell’Anno heads back to school for a mid-career change
Over the last two decades, John Dell’Anno of Shaftsbury had built a career as a carpenter. Employed by a company out of Manchester, John worked on high-end residential job sites, and found plenty of work in towns like Stratton, Windham, and Dorset.
But in 2014, after suffering a few accidents (one of which landed him in the hospital for back surgery), he started thinking about a possible career change. “I was 37 at the time – I’m 46 now – and even then, I realized I wasn’t getting any younger. That opened the door to thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
The pandemic, John says, provided an additional dose of inspiration. “I wanted a better life for myself and my family. And I wanted to do something a little more meaningful than working on people’s second and third homes,” he says. “Seeing what nurses were going through during the pandemic, helping others, really struck a chord. It made me realize that I wasn’t being fulfilled as a carpenter. I wanted to take care of people and help them be well.”
So, in 2019, while still working full-time at his carpentry job, John signed up for a couple of classes at CCV: Anatomy & Physiology and Intro to Nutrition. He enjoyed the subjects, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized that nursing would make a good fit for his empathetic personality. So he decided to go back to school. But if he was going to continue, he would need some financial help.
“CCV hooked me up with VSAC, and when I called, Martha McCaughin was on the other end of the line,” John recalls, referring to his counselor at VSAC’s Educational Opportunity Center, the division of VSAC that works with adults looking to continue their education. “Martha has definitely been instrumental in helping me navigate this whole pathway that I’m on right now.”
In 2022, with VSAC’s help, John received a grant to take additional courses at Southwestern Vermont Technical Center toward his LNA certification. “Once I started that program, that opened the door for a job opportunity at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center,” John recalls, where he took a position as a sterile processing technician in the hospital’s perioperative department.
“After working there for a year, I was still trying to figure out how to make it all work, in terms of working full-time, going to school, and being there for my family. It’s definitely a juggling act,” says John, who is married with a 12-year-old daughter. “All along the way, Martha was a strong advocate, telling me that I could do it. She found grants and scholarships for me, and she was the key to making it financially feasible.”
This past summer, John also became one of the first participants in the RN Pipeline Pathway Program, offered through a partnership between VSAC, Vermont Business Roundtable, the Community College of Vermont, Vermont State University, and his employer, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. The program allows SVMC employees to work 24 hours a week at the hospital, then take 12 hours of classes at Vermont State University, while still being paid. “And at 36 hours, you’re still considered full-time, so you’re able to keep your benefits,” John notes, something that was critical for him, as the benefits provider for his family. “So I jumped right on it. [SVMC] only selects 10 employees per year, and thankfully I was chosen.” There are additional SVMC employees enrolled in the nursing prerequisite courses at CCV, who will apply to Vermont State University’s LPN program later this fall.
The first part of the RN Pipeline Pathway Program, which is also offered to employees of other hospitals around the state, includes the prerequisite nursing courses and a 10-month accelerated LPN program that can be completed in three semesters. John will finish classes in June, take the exam, and hopefully be working as an LPN in July. After that, the Pathway program starts back up later that fall, with another 10-month program. When he graduates after that second year, John will be an RN with an associate’s degree.
“In just three years, my life will have changed dramatically,” says John, who says it’s always bothered him that he didn’t finish college. In 2000, he started at the University of Vermont with the thought of getting a degree in environmental science, “but my life took some turns, and I left after two years, moved back to southern Vermont, and started working as a carpenter. It ate at me for a long time, not finishing school,” he says.
John’s family and friends have all been overwhelmingly supportive of his decision to switch to the nursing field. He also had another important voice spurring him on – that of his late mother, who passed away in 2018. She had followed a similar journey, going back to school at age 50 to become an LPN.
“I’m sure she’s looking down on me right now,” John laughs. “I was in high school when my parents divorced and she went back to school. At 50 years old, after not working outside the home for many years, that must have been a huge transition for her, too. I had no idea as a teenager what she went through. Now that I’m doing it myself, I have a much better appreciation.”
“It’s a daunting task,” says John about going back to college mid-career. “This program has been a really great opportunity. To get to this point on my own would have been very scary. I don’t want to say impossible – people figure it out all the time – but having VSAC’s and Martha’s help, making sure I was in contact with the right people, that I had my FAFSA and my Vermont State Grant applications done at the right time – that was all so helpful. This is a huge transition in my life, a life change. I have a lot of people to thank, and Martha is certainly one of them.”