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Co-worker proves hard work pays, moves up career ladder

Five years ago, Christie Byers was a single mother who became unemployed after working 22 years in the insurance industry. As she looked for a new career path, she reflected on her dream of becoming a nurse.

Christie Byers
Christie Byers began working for
Country Meadows as a personal care associate. Since then, she completed nursing school and was recently promoted to assistant director of wellness.
Byers learned about an open Personal Care Associate position at Country Meadows of South Hills near Pittsburgh. Although her only care experience was assisting her grandfather who had Alzheimer's disease, Byers asked the employment specialist to take a chance on her. Inspired by the nurses who helped her grandfather, she, too, wanted to others.

Today Byers has advanced her career at Country Meadows and was just promoted to Assistant Director of Wellness in the campus' secured Connections Neighborhood for residents with Alzheimer's disease.

It was a long road paved with very, very hard work but also opportunities for advancement. Byers loved the work right from the start. "I immediately loved my job and still do. I love all the residents, and I love to hear their stories and about their lives. My goal at the end of every day is to get our residents to smile. Whether that's by giving a hug or taking a moment to visit with them," says Byers. "And the co-workers are great, too. There's not one person from the very top down who wouldn't take a moment to help someone."

When she was on the job six months, a position for a Medication Associate opened up. Byers' manager encouraged her to apply. She earned the promotion and after three days of specialized training, she first believed that her dream to become a nurse could come true.

She enrolled in school taking night courses while working full-time to pay the bills.

"School was tough," she says. "I'm not book smart, and I had teachers who told me I wouldn't make it. They'd say, 'C's don't get degrees,' but I'm glad they did. I think that pushed me even harder, and I even went back to thank them for it when I was all done."

With no family close by, Byers is thankful for her Country Meadows family who made it possible for her to keep working toward her dream. She recalls a time when her car broke down and she was able to get it fixed through a loan program available to Country Meadows co-workers. Without it, her ability to get to school and work could have come to a screeching halt. "It was a very challenging time, and I remember telling my son that things would get better," says Byers. "We made the best with what we had, even if it meant buying his Christmas gifts at the Dollar Store. I couldn't take him to Kennywood to play, but I'd buy him a value burger at McDonald's, and he could go in the ball pit while I sat at a table and did my school work."

During the moments of doubt when she felt she couldn't keep going, her mentors at Country Meadows, nurses Corrie Froats, Barbara McCollum and Suzanne Keddie, were there to encourage her. They answered her questions and wouldn't let her give up her dream. They also helped her apply for the Mary Jo Templin scholarship-a full nursing scholarship available to Country Meadows co-workers. With the scholarship, Byers was able to begin her nurse training.
"With nursing there's a lot of clinical work, and [Country Meadows was] really great about making sure I got hours while completing everything I needed for school," says Byers.

The opportunity to work at other places while completing her clinical work opened Byers' eyes to how unique Country Meadows is in its caring approach.
"I saw a different side of things. There are places where people are just doing a job, and it's nothing like that here," she says. "Here the main interest is the care of the residents. We are a family, and that includes the residents, the co-workers and the managers."

After completing her nursing education, Byers passed the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) board exam and immediately began working at Country Meadows as an LPN. She also became a nurse mentor to train PCAs who are new to the job. She enjoys teaching co-workers about the importance of the PCA role because they are with the residents constantly.

She says her experience as a PCA will always be helpful to her as she continues to grow in her career. As a nurse Byers has noticed a different relationship with the residents, one where they are looking to her for assurance, and she is grateful when she is able to give them the support they need.

In addition to her new job, Byers also got married last September and is thrilled that the changes in her life have helped her keep the promise she made to her son. "He remembers me telling him that things would get better, and they really are," says Byers. "Now he has a stepfather and stepsister that he adores, and we live in a house with a pool and we just got a dog. It's been quite a journey."

With her new promotion, Byers will work with residents who have dementia which brings her back to her dream of caring for seniors who have Alzheimer's disease.

"It' a great opportunity," she says. "I know it will be hectic in the beginning, but this is exactly what I always wanted to do, and I'm so happy to finally be getting the chance to do it. I could never have done this without Country Meadows giving me the opportunity and all of the support along the way."