When Jennifer Popp was earning her degree in social work, her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, she found that many of the subjects she studied in college became very pertinent to her as she helped her parents deal with the transition of her grandmother to skilled care. For Jen, it was the beginning of a journey that ultimately would lead her to her current position as Administrator for Eunice Smith Home, a skilled nursing home community in Alton, IL.
Find Your Home
Soon after her graduation in 2003, Jen joined the team at Bethesda Dilworth as a social worker. Though she had no previous experience with long-term care, she was impressed with what her fellow social workers did each day to help residents. “I knew I had found my home,” she says.
In her current position as Administrator, Jen has a wide perspective on what happens at Eunice Smith Home. She manages 72 employees, oversees daily operations, handles employee issues, and assists with resident and family member relationships. She is also responsible for the fiscal management of the community, as well as quality assurance and process improvement. “You have to be a ‘jack of all trades,’” she laughs.
Two Important Attributes of a Career in Senior Care
According to Jen, the two most important attributes for working in long-term care are taking joy in helping people and being patient.
“When you see someone carried into your community on a stretcher for rehabilitation and then, a few weeks later, walking out of the community and waving goodbye, that feeling that you get from helping someone achieve an important goal in order to make their life better is what it’s all about.”
Working in long-term care also requires patience. “You may be meeting a senior adult for the first time, and it may be the most vulnerable time in their life,” Jen says. “It takes empathy and the ability to build a relationship with another person if you are going to help them. Sometimes that develops slowly, but making those connections is really important.”
Many Opportunities, One Mission
Employment opportunities in senior care are numerous: maintenance, nurses, certified nurse assistants (CNAs), therapists, care managers, social workers, management positions, financial services, human resources, marketing and sales, IT and computer support services, medical records personnel, activity directors, receptionists, food service workers, housekeepers, and transportation.
“We have a lot of ways to match up with peoples’ interests,” says Jen. “Whether your position requires you to work directly with the residents or not, you’re going to have some interaction with them. Our residents even have their favorite maintenance people.”
Though there are a variety of employment options, Jen has noticed that there is a singular commitment among Bethesda employees to providing quality care for our residents.
“Even if you don’t work directly with patients, a definite sense of purpose at Bethesda exists that brings employees together,” she says. “I’ve worked at other Bethesda communities, and I can tell you that I still stay in touch on a weekly basis with people I worked with years ago. The people here are a huge support system for you and the residents.”
Tuition Reimbursement is Available
“If you dedicate your time and effort to Bethesda, Bethesda will invest in you,” Jen says. She is speaking about Bethesda’s tuition reimbursement program, which provides $4,000 per year to full-time employees and $2,000 per year to part-time employees.
“Bethesda does its best to work around your school schedule,” Jen says, and she should know. With the program’s assistance, she earned a master’s degree in social work. “Imagine keeping a job and earning a degree with no student loans,” she says.
Creating Bonds That Last
Jen remembers one man who kept coming back to Bethesda for rehabilitation. “Each time he came back, he was weaker and less able to care for himself,” she says. “Finally, one day I had to tell him that he should stay in long-term care.” The man said he knew that was true, but he just wasn’t ready to face it.
Jen helped him work through the process. He insisted on staying at Bethesda Southgate, the skilled nursing community in South County where she was working at the time, because of her and the care he had received there.
“He reminded me of my grandfather, and he always called me ‘kid,’” she recalls. “’Hey, kid, how are you doing?’”
When he passed away, his family presented Jen with a framed puzzle that had been hanging in his room because her friendship with the man had meant so much to him. “It still hangs in my office,” Jen says. “I will always remember him. It was a bond we forged because I was willing to have a difficult conversation with him, and we built a relationship together. It means a lot to me.”
Seeking a Career in Senior Care
Ready to start your career in senior care? At Bethesda’s communities across the St. Louis area, we strive to make a difference in the lives of seniors every day. Contact a community near you or browse our open job listings online to get started.