Turning a passion into a career in Lebanon


Photo above: Angie Vanover found both a calling and a career

The third in a series of “Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce” articles by the United Way of Southwest Virginia

We’re losing them – we need 300cc’s of volunteerism, stat! Only one in four of America’s teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 currently volunteers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but volunteering can help identify passions that could lead to careers.

For Angie Vanover, a nurse at Russell County Medical Center of Mountain States Health Alliance, it was her volunteer work at the age of 15 that allowed her to connect her passion with a career path.

Vanover’s then-boyfriend (now her husband) knew she wanted to be a nurse. He encouraged her to join the New Garden Junior Rescue Squad in Honaker, Va., for volunteers under the age of 18.

She said, “It was a huge part of my life. I think that the squad – that and sports – kept me occupied. I think maybe a time or two, I would have gone down the wrong road if it wasn’t for all of that. I think it kept me focused. My junior and senior year, there were times when I would run calls all night and go to school the next day. I loved it that much.”

From Vanover’s volunteer experience, she gained a mentor with her same interests, which the Center for Promise says doubles the benefits of mentoring. She explained that the older members on the senior squad invested in the junior squad. She said, “One of the members of the senior squad was an ICU nurse and cardiac technician at Russell County Medical Center, and she became a mentor to me – and still is. She was a little bit intimidating, but for whatever reason, she took me under her wing. We became very good friends. She always believed in me and encouraged me to go on and further my career.”

Because of that mentor, Vanover was introduced to what a job in the nursing field actually looked like, “When we would come in on a call and she was working, she would take me in the ICU and explain the monitors and teach me about telemetries and things like that.”

That volunteer experience and mentorship set the stage for Vanover’s career. At the age of 18, she received her EMT certification, married her high school sweetheart, and became a nurse’s aide in some of the local retirement homes.

When she was 23, she went on to nursing school in an LPN program. “About a month into the program, I had my daughter, Abigail. It was extremely difficult. When I had her, I took about two weeks off. I came over here every other day and took two tests at a time because in that program, it’s really demanding – you take a test every day. But I did it, and I graduated salutatorian.”

Upon graduation, she was offered a job by Russell County Medical Center (RCMC). But Vanover wasn’t finished with her education, so she immediately began taking pre-requisites for an RN program at Southwest Virginia Community College. While in the program, Vanover continued to work at RCMC in ICU. She said, “When I was in ICU, I was the baby of that unit. The people I worked with were always ten or more years older than me. They taught me the right way to do things. That’s very much molded me into the nurse I am, and my mentor has encouraged me all the way through my career.”

A study conducted by Sun Microsystems compared the career progress of approximately 1,000 employees over a five-year period, and found that being mentored makes an employee five times more likely to be promoted. It certainly seems to have some truth in Vanover’s case.

She completed the RN program by taking one or two classes each semester over the course of five years because she didn’t want to neglect time with her family. Vanover said, “My husband and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary this year. He is a wonderful person who has played mommy and daddy many times when I’ve been in school and working. He’s been extremely supportive in whatever I’ve pursued, and he’s my backbone. If it wasn’t for my husband, my mom, and my grandmother, I would not have been able to pursue all of this with two children.”

Several years passed, her children became teenagers, and Vanover remained at RCMC. In 2013, she was given an opportunity to change positions and Mountain States Health Alliance paid for her to get her wound care certification. Then, another opportunity came her way. Mountain States Health Alliance awarded ten employees scholarships to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, and one of those employees was Vanover. She finished the program last year.

Vanover, like a lot of people in our region, has a strong work ethic, and she is modeling that for the next generation. “To find out how your passions can be used in the community, you have to get involved,” she said. “Volunteering should be part of life. I’d encourage the next generation interested in healthcare to volunteer with a junior rescue squad or at one of Mountain States hospitals.”

When Vanover thought back on her own life, she said, “The only way to see what a career is really like is to get out there in the field – to volunteer and shadow. Don’t just run with a career choice because of the fantasy of what it looks like in your head. If you take different opportunities as they come to you, you’ll know when you find how to use your passion. You’ll know. Even today, I know nursing is my passion. I’ve been a nurse for 17 years, and I love it more now than I ever did. I’ll never do anything else.”

In September, United Way of Southwest Virginia is hosting a Careers Expo for Youth to inspire more than 4,000 seventh graders to find their passions. Students will participate in hands-on activities from dozens of our region’s employers, and could be able to climb a utility pole, participate in a chemistry experiment, or use a 3-D printer to create a 3-D object. To learn how to make sure your business is involved in this two-day event to inspire tomorrow’s future workforce, visit UnitedWaySWVA.org/expo.

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