What do you do when you are in your 60s, your children have left home and your husband has retired? Not many people would say, “I think I’ll become a village health aide!” But Betty Schmitz, known as B.J., did just that. She and her husband had lived in Bettles many years before, but moved to Fairbanks and raised their two girls there. When the girls went off on their own adventures (one is an Intensive Care Unit nurse at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, while the other is in her last year of veterinary school), B.J. and her husband started dreaming about heading back to the small village life they’d enjoyed so much.
“My husband and I love hunting and we started talking about a new phase of life. I saw the advertisement for a health aide position in Evansville, and thought ‘I could do that!’ My college degree was in biology, and between home schooling my girls and the fact that my husband was a science teacher, I’d stayed somewhat aware of the advancements in science. As soon as I was hired, we moved to Evansville and I began the extensive training program. I think I was their oldest recruit ever!”
Book learning had always come easy to B.J., so the intensive health aide training program was not the hardest part of her new career. “Actually, it was treating patients that made me very nervous at first. It is a huge responsibility! But I love caring for people and feeling like I have a purpose in life. And people out here are so appreciative of your efforts. Even the simple things make a huge difference, like someone stepped on a nail and I was able to take it out and give a tetanus shot.”
The hardest part of the job is that B.J. is the sole health aide in the area. As a result, she is on call 24 hours a day when she is in town, and there is no other health professional to bounce ideas off of or debrief with when she has a troubling case. There is an abundance of support from her coordinator instructor Jo Miller and others at the CHAP office in Fairbanks, but sometimes a face to face conversation would be comforting.
When B.J. is not working, she loves being outdoors hunting and berry picking. When not busy gathering and storing food for the winter, she can be found with her nose in a book. Like any avid reader, she will read anything but her preference is non-fiction. “I just like learning new things,” is how she puts it.
Asked what advice she would give to someone else who sees an advertisement for a health aide position and wonders if it would be a good fit for them, B.J. said, “I would stress that it is a huge commitment. You are never really off duty and the responsibility of figuring out how to help someone ill or in pain is a huge one. And sometimes people can get mad at you if they don’t like the advice or information you give them. One thing TCC stresses in the training is that you are representing not only yourself but the entire health aide program, so you have to hold yourself to very high standards in how you behave—not only at work but when you are going about in the community. But it is a great job and I would not trade my life now for anything. Not everyone who just qualified for Medicare is lucky enough to have a job where you help people and learn something new every day!”
Jo Miller, the Coordinator Instructor for CHAP, and BJ’s supervisor, says, “Working with BJ over the last few years has been an absolute pleasure. She is motivated and dedicated to providing the very best of care for her patients. Her past life experience along with enthusiasm and positive attitude creates a welcoming environment for her patients to seek much needed care in the village.”