For 17 years, Kirsten Ball worked in banking and investments, rising through the corporate world of First Valley Bank, Montecito Bank and Trust and AG Edwards Investments. She was a teller and later operations manager and loved her work. But all those years, she longed to become a nurse.
“I couldn’t figure out how ” she recalled. “Life gets in the way – you have bills, obligations.” She’d been around the hospital setting periodically with her parents. She never had a bad experience, she said and thought nursing looked interesting.
“I was about 35 and I said, ‘You have to take the leap,’” Kirsten said. “I didn’t want to live with that regret forever, of not ever knowing if that was what I was supposed to do.” So she decided to keep working in the investment industry and went back to school. She had already attended Allan Hancock College after graduating Cabrillo High School in 1990 and spent about a year at UCSB when she first considered becoming an English teacher.
She still needed to do the prerequisites for nursing school. She finished those and earned her certificate as a Certified Nursing Assistant. That led to a job at the Comprehensive Care Center while she was on the waiting list for nursing school.
“It was a great experience and I got my feet wet,” she said. “When I was a CNA, everyone said, ‘You look like you should be a nurse.’”
Fueled by her long-held dream and that type of encouragement, Kirsten quit her job, cashed in her retirement account and enrolled in school full-time. She graduated Hancock College in 2013 and became a nurse at LVMC’s medical-surgical unit.
“I felt, ‘This is my home, my community,’” she said. “I feel like it’s time to give back to my community.” About a year into nursing, CCC Administrator Katie Ellis recruited Kirsten for a job at the skilled nursing facility as a nurse manager. “I’m learning something new every day, but I love it,” Kirsten says.
As a nurse manager, she’s considered a go-to person, a trouble-shooter. She ensures the facility is adequately staffed for each shift and works closely with CCC Director of Nursing Riitta Speer. The job includes managing staff, working with physician orders, helping with admissions and discharges and much more.
“Our staff here is amazing,” she says. “The care they give residents is incredible. To be here to support them, to know they feel comfortable, makes me feel good.” She said she never envisioned working with geriatric patients. But once on board at the CCC, Kirsten said she felt as if she were home.
“I just feel good when I go home at the end of the day,” she says. “I feel like I have done something. I’m not in direct patient care all the time. It’s rare. But if I can walk by and squeeze someone’s hand and put a smile on their face, it makes me feel good. I go home at the end of the day and say, ‘Oh, I did something today.’”
One of those patients trusted her so much that she actually became the new caretaker of the patient’s dog. Spencer, a female Pomeranian, was the CCC dog and became latched onto a resident. After four years at the CCC, the resident was well enough to return to independent living, but couldn’t take Spencer along.
The resident trusted Kirsten and asked her to care for the canine. So now, Spencer is Kirsten’s shadow, and goes everywhere she goes. Kirsten is working to achieve her bachelor’s degree by the end of the year, and by the end of 2018, to have earned her master’s degree in nursing leadership and management.
“I’m so thankful I decided to become a nurse,” she said. “And I don’t have to live with that regret. I can’t even imagine going back to banking or investments again.” She enjoyed her job in the banking field, but it wasn’t as personal.
“I was managing the office,” she explained. “I come here, and these people live here. This is their home. We have the privilege of coming into their home every day and sharing whatever life they have left with them, and to make it the best possible time they can have.”