Earlier this week, Pam and I talked about her family planning work experience, among other things.
How did you start working in family planning? I was taking some college classes and volunteering for the sexual assault hotline. This job came up and I applied and I fell into it. It was a great job right from the start.
What kind of work did you do before coming to family planning? In my twenties, I worked as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home. I totally enjoyed that. Then I lived in Portland for a while and worked at the Executive Inn on Congress Street. I enjoyed that too. I just love working with people.
How is working in family planning different from other health care work you’ve done? It isn’t, really. It’s all about caring for people, whether they are elderly nursing home residents or teenagers. The important thing is being able to key in on what the patient needs in the moment and not assume you already know when they walk in the door. Sometimes people are embarrassed by what brings them to family planning. I try to communicate to patients the message, “Whatever is going on in your life is normal. It’s called life.”
What’s changed since you started working in family planning thirty years ago? One big change I’ve seen is that many teens are holding off with having sex. When they tell me that, I say, “Good for you. Can you tell me how you’re doing that?” It’s not always an easy thing to do as a teenager.
Last year brought a major transition as family planning services moved from ACAP to Maine Family Planning. How has that affected your work? Since the transition, my job has changed a lot. Now, at the Fort Kent site, I’m working at the front desk instead of counseling patients. I miss that part and our patients do too. They say, “Come out from behind the desk, so I can give you a hug.” I’ve known some of our patients for a long time. Their grandchildren are now coming here!
People often think that family planning is just for teens and young adults. We have a lot more single midlife women who use our services than we have in the past. And they have different needs than our younger patients. It’s easy to assume that the midlife women are all set with birth control but that’s not always the case. And our younger patients know much more about STDs than older women who find themselves single again. Those women didn’t learn about STDs when they were in school.
What’s it like working in two different Aroostook County family planning health centers? People who don’t live in The County often see it as having a single identity, but there really are different cultures in different areas. In the upper St. John River Valley, in small towns like Fort Kent, there’s a strong French culture and ethnic pride that brings people together. Presque Isle is bigger and more sprawling, which seems to affect how connected people feel. Also, in Presque Isle it seems that more people are moving away than in the Fort Kent area; there’s more of a feeling of impermanence. It makes my work feel different in each health center.
In your opinion, what makes family planning health care special? Often, when you go to a doctor’s office, they focus on the problems you present and how to fix them. At family planning, patients are able to open up and feel safe. The personal touch here is so good. Our nurse practitioners, Cheryl Sue and Christina, are excellent so I always get good feedback from patients.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
The other part of my life is volunteering. The slogan for the town of Fort Kent is “The Little Town That Could” and the reason we can is that everybody volunteers. I’ve been on the board of Lonesome Pine Trails and did ski patrol there. I was also on the town planning board for twenty years. I’m on the board at the Fort Kent country club and I volunteer for the Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Races. I even went to Lake Placid to train in score keeping for the Biathlon World Cup when it was held in Fort Kent. I like being involved in my community.