Today’s Superheroes, Built North Country Strong
Mother and daughter duo balance family, work and college to graduate from Jefferson’s prestigious nursing program together.
Meet Heidi and Makaila.
Heidi L. O’Brien grew up in Jefferson County in the Adams area and got her first job at age seventeen. She juggled work and her education, and at a young age, a family too. Heidi had become a mother when she was sixteen years old, having daughter Makaila while she was still in high school. Heidi managed that responsibility while still pursuing her dreams, completing her schooling to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and, at age 20, worked in her first direct care position at Jefferson Rehabilitation Center. Continuing to pursue an LPN career, Heidi took a refresher course and passed her board exams in 2006, going on to work at Samaritan Medical Center as an LPN and a surgical scrub technician.
Heidi had dreams of becoming a registered nurse (RN) and pursued that degree. “LPN was a stepping-stone for me. I wanted to show my kids you need to keep striving to get what you want. I started [to pursue the RN program] when Makaila was young. It just didn’t work out. I was too young. I didn’t have the mindset. Making money was more important to support day-to-day,” Heidi says. Thirteen years after Makaila was born, Heidi gave birth to twin girls. She decided she would wait until the twins started school, before trying to go back and pursue the RN career. She did just that. Working full-time to support and raise three kids, Heidi began to fulfill her nursing prerequisites part-time while the twins were in grade school and Makaila was in high school.
“I’ll apply with you mom.”
Then there’s Makaila. Makaila L. Houghton powered through high school at South Jefferson and then Jefferson Community College, graduating from the allied health program in 2017. She began working part-time at Samaritan Medical Center as an aid in the Progressive Care Unit when mom Heidi decided it was time to apply to Jefferson’s nursing program. Makaila’s response: “I’ll apply with you mom.”
Makaila always knew she wanted to work in healthcare, but says her mom inspired her to want to become a nurse. On learning Makaila would be applying to the nursing program with her, mom Heidi says, “I was so excited! We grew up together. She was at my high school graduation on my hip. I was at her high school graduation and then college. This was another thing for us to go through together!”
Heidi and Makaila applied and were accepted to Jefferson’s nursing program, both choosing the weekend option, which meets every other weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) for two years, without breaks. The weekend option is ideal for those who have other responsibilities to manage, like work and family.
“I had to sit down and work for it.”
Makaila quickly learned, upon entering the nursing program, that classes wouldn’t come as easily as they had for her in the past. Makaila recounts starting the program with her mother: “At first I was like, ‘mom, I got this’ and she was always saying ‘make sure you get your homework done, this is due this day. . .’ and around second semester, I was like ‘I need you’ and we would study till midnight before tests. We’d get to college early on test day and study in our cars together. It would be dark out at 5am!” On the challenges of transitioning to the nursing program, Makaila says, “I never had to study in high school . . . I flew by the seat of my pants and the nursing program challenged me - I had to sit down and work for it.”
Mom Heidi remembers the hard work it took to complete the program too, but kept focused clearly on her goals. “Quitting was never an option. Yeah, I wanted to throw my laptop a few times, I shed a lot of tears . . . chewed a lot of erasers, but never wanted to quit! What would my kids think? What would my parents think? What would I think of myself?”
Three generations of Hard-Working Women
It is easy to understand where Makaila got her work ethic, growing up with a mom like Heidi. Heidi recalls, “Yes I had Makaila very, very young, but I grew up fast. We grew up together. I always wanted Makaila to have the world and I figured I was the one who was going to show her never to settle.”
So where did Heidi get the motivation and drive to work so hard to achieve her goal of becoming an RN? Naturally, the answer is: her own mom, Pam Dufresne. Heidi says she and Makaila watched her mother Pam work two jobs, changing her own work schedule so she could help care for Makaila, ensuring Heidi would finish high school. Heidi says, "My mom I believe inspired me not to give up on my dreams no matter what stood in front of me. My mom was always a hard, hard worker. [She] always wanted more but never really went after it because she felt providing for the family was more important than taking time for herself to go back to school . . . [We] always had what we needed . . . because my parents worked so hard to get by. I appreciated this, and because of that, pushed me to want more."
The Jefferson Experience
Speaking with Jefferson nursing faculty member and weekend option director Julie Soule, MS, CNS, RN, she recalls on the journey of both students, “Although they did not initially mention that they were mother and daughter, it soon became known that they were, indeed. It was delightful watching them study together, attend lab, lecture and clinicals together; laugh and on occasion cry together. . . Truly inspirational and at this point in time, they are still the ONLY mother/daughter students to attend the weekend option simultaneously.”
Heidi and Makaila had positive experiences at Jefferson and both said they felt well-prepared for the NCLEX exam after completing the program in December 2019. The NCLEX exam is the national certification nurses take to allow them to practice as an RN. On getting into the nursing program after having taken a break from college, Heidi says, “Keep going. It’s never too late . . . I work with all age groups who got their RN and some were even close to retirement. If there’s a will, there’s a way. You can always adjust.” Daughter Makaila agrees, stating, “Definitely, don’t give up. If JCC is where you want to go, try again and never give up.” Both Heidi and Makaila began working as RN’s at Samaritan Medical Center in 2020, not surprisingly, both working in the same maternity ward.
So here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.
Learn more about Jefferson’s nursing program.
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