This nursing student had begun a career as a farmer when she realized that the same values that drew her to farming were calling her to a career in primary care. Her personal story developed from the Gregg Stracks Leadership Summit where PCP chapter leaders learned to craft and tell their story of self.
By Katie Lozito
I didn’t always want to be a nurse when I grew up. No one in my family is in the health care field, and I was on track to becoming a social and environmental activist. I was vegan. I went to DC to protest the war in Iraq. I chained myself to the headquarters of corporations that funded such atrocities as clear-cutting old growth forests or killing baby dolphins. So naturally, I majored in environmental studies and decided that food, being a basic human need, was the most important thing I could focus on in order to save not just the environment but people as well.
I was going to be a farmer.
I had researched working for a land trust, making agricultural policy, and coordinating healthy food programs. In the end, the only job that really appealed to me was being on the front lines, in the trenches, and doing the actual work of growing food. I didn’t want to be a consumer that supports farmers. I didn’t want to be working from an office trying to set aside land for farmers. I didn’t want to work at the farmers market selling what the farmer grew. I wanted to have my hands in the dirt, truly working the land, and connecting with customers. I knew there was a shortage of farmers for many reasons (hard physical work, long hours, low pay, etc.), but none of these scared me. I knew that having a local, healthy and fresh food supply is essential to the future of a healthy population, and I was dedicated to the future of Maine.
So I worked my way up from apprentice to farm manager, working on a couple different farms throughout New England.
As the years wore on, I realized that I needed health insurance and that it would be nice to make more than $6 an hour and not live in a shack on someone else’s land. But since I had been farming for so long, I didn’t have enough money to buy my own piece of land, much less move out of my shack, so it seemed like I would forever be working for someone else.
During the winters I took seasonal jobs. I shoveled snow, framed up a house, and was a home caregiver for the elderly. I really liked this job, but there was no room for advancement in the direction I wanted to advance. Without a nursing degree, a promotion would have moved me into an office and away from my clients. As my farming dreams became more and more unattainable, the nursing field looked more appealing. It may seem a big leap from farming to nursing, but this was another tangible, hands-on profession where the fruits of my labor would be apparent. Working in primary care, another undervalued, under-paid, and underappreciated profession, appealed to me for the same reasons farming had. It was a hands-in-the-dirt, front-line profession. I would be in the trenches working directly with patients, hopefully before they were sick, in a community setting where I could really make a difference in people’s health and lives. Sure, starting nursing school was intimidating: my only ‘health care’ experience was castrating goats and delivering lambs. But there are many similarities between growing food and providing health care.
I am interested in the basic fundamentals of life – food, health, human relationships, and our mortality. Although much of my academic career and work has focused on environmental studies, I believe our health, environment, and food are inextricably linked.
I became a farmer after struggling for years to determine the most important thing I could focus my energies on. I’m interested in nothing less than the future of our species, and nurses – like farmers – play an essential role in this future. While its easy to become discouraged about the state of the world – as I was when I chained myself to corporate headquarters or protested the war in Iraq –and to feel helpless about your own power to alter its course, connecting with another person in the way that perhaps only a health care provider can is a concrete way to own some of that power again.
When I realized that farming was not going to work out for me, I was discouraged that I was relinquishing my opportunity to directly help other human beings. Working in primary care restores in me some hope and reminds me that I do have some control over our collective future. I can go home at the end of the day knowing that I used my hands, mind, and stethoscope to truly change someone’s life. And while I don’t have dirt under my fingernails anymore, I go home knowing that I helped another human being.
Katie Lozito is in her third and final year of nurse practitioner school at the University of Southern Maine. She hopes to complete a residency before starting her three-year commitment to working with the underserved as part of the National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program.