• Mothers’ Influence Shapes Healthcare Careers

    By Stephanie Bouchard

    Sally Keeling hadn’t planned on a career in healthcare. She wanted to be an accountant. Hospitals, she thought, were for nurses and doctors, not accountants. But, because of her mother, healthcare is where she has spent most of her career.

    The influence of our mothers is so vast and deep as to be undefinable. Their imprint on us touches everything in our lives, from how we function in personal and professional relationships to what we choose to do for careers and, to some extent, the trajectory of those careers.

    “The No. 1 factor in all of our lives is our mother. Even fathers don’t have as much influence,” says John Townsend, leadership consultant and psychologist.

    For good or ill, your mother―or the person who mothered you―is always with you, in all aspects of your life. “When you’re 80 years old, you’ve still got a mother inside you,” says Townsend, the author of several books, including, Our Mothers, Ourselves: How Understanding Your Mother’s Influence Can Set You on a Path to a Better Life, written with Henry Cloud.

    Sally Keeling and her motherIt wasn’t until later in life that Keeling, now the director of accounting at Cascade Medical Center in Leavenworth, Wash., realized how much influence her mother had on her career and that of her sister’s, who became a respiratory therapist. “In the beginning, I didn’t understand how much of an impact her simple encouragement had on us,” she says.

    Sumintra (Sue) Sharma, Keeling’s mother, stayed home to raise her three children in Fiji. Keeling’s father, Dharmendra, worked in a sugar mill and fished when the mill was closed. To supplement their income, Sue Sharma picked up housekeeping jobs. In 1989, when Keeling was 15 years old, her parents moved their family to Canada and then to California, certain their children would have more opportunities in the United States.

    Keeling was married, working as a security guard and earning her two-year degree in accounting when her mother started working in the housekeeping department at a hospital. It wasn’t long before Sharma began encouraging her youngest children―Keeling and her sister―to pursue careers in healthcare.

    To her mother, working in healthcare was an ideal career, Keeling says. Her mother constantly bombarded her daughters with stories of how much the patients appreciated what she did for them. “She had worked in hotels before,” Keeling says,” but the hospital was a whole different environment. She felt like she was making a difference.”

    Helping people was very important to the Sharma family, Keeling adds. When she was growing up, helping people in need was an unstated rule of the house. “My parents’ mind-set was always reach out to people in need,” Keeling says. “It was natural for mom to encourage us to go into healthcare because we always helped out.”

    Keeling didn’t see how her accounting degree was going to help anybody out. “I was going to work and get paid to do an accounting job,” she recalls. But her mother’s intervention changed the direction of Keeling’s career path.

    Sharma made friends throughout the hospital, including with members of the payroll department. She encouraged her daughter to meet with a member of the payroll department to discuss an open position. Keeling was surprised―and happy―to learn there was a place for finance workers in the world of healthcare. She took the job in the payroll department even though she was overqualified, certain that it would start her on a path she wanted to be on. She was right.

    Over the years, as she moved up in finance, her mother pushed her to further her education. Even when she was working full-time as a single mother, Keeling’s mother exhorted her to keep at it. If she, with so little education and speaking broken English, could do well working at a hospital, just think what her daughter could do with more education. “She always said, ‘With your education, you could do a lot more at the hospital.’ She was so sure it would be the industry that would meet the purpose of us coming to America to better ourselves.”

    Keeling went on to earn her MBA, and she hopes to become a CFO one day. “Mom always said, ‘The sky’s the limit. You can keep going with your education.’ I’m glad she did motivate me.”

    Keeling’s mother motivated her granddaughters, too. One is a pre-med student and the other is training for nursing.

    Iris Oladapo her husband and her motherThe importance of helping others is a common thread among those working in healthcare, and among the mothers influencing them. That certainly was the case for Keeling and for Iris Oladapo, a public school teacher who became a home healthcare franchise owner.

    Oladapo, who now lives in New Jersey, grew up in Brooklyn. Her father was a police officer and her mother worked as a resource officer in the public school system. “I watched her work with other people,” Oladapo says. “She saw a lot of people struggling who needed help.” Oladapo’s mother helped them, and she helped any friends or family members who needed help, too.

    “My mother was always a good example,” Oladapo said.

    When Oladapo’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, she followed her mother’s example. She commuted between her home in New Jersey and her mother’s home in New York to help care for her. She eventually sold her child care business so she could focus on helping her mother and raising her own three children.

    It wasn’t until after her mother died that she got into the healthcare field. While searching for a location to open another child care business, she was introduced to home health care, something she hadn’t known about when her mother was ill.

    Having experienced the stress and struggles of trying to help an ill family member, Oladapo recognized the value of home healthcare services and decided to open a franchise with Executive Care instead of opening another child care center.

    Her mother would be proud of her, Oladapo says. “She would say, ‘You’re helping people, and that’s important,’” Oladapo says. “I know she would be proud of this kind of business.”

    Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer based in Maine. Visit her 

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