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Alumna Story: Susan Dawson (2017)

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Marin Ballet has a rich 57-year legacy in the Marin community. We have had hundreds of students come through our doors and devote many years of their young lives to this extraordinary art form we all love. Our students have inspired us in the studio, on the stage and in the myriad of other ways we experience them over the years, and that includes their lives after they leave MB. Their stories are our story.

This is an historic moment. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, which has impacted everyone’s life and has lasted much longer than anyone could have predicted. We are all familiar with the 8 o’clock howl that happens every evening in neighborhoods across Marin as a tribute to and acknowledgement of our many healthcare workers who are working in the trenches at this time. Among them is one of our graduates, Susan Dawson, who is currently working as a Critical Care Technician at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital in what has now become the Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit. She is a third-year student at Northeastern University pursuing a Bachelor of Science and Nursing degree.

Susan wasn’t necessarily planning on becoming a nurse. She knew she wanted to be in the medical field but she didn’t know the specifics. She was drawn to the personable nature of nursing, and human-to-human connection was important to her, but the actual career choice wasn’t clear. During her junior year at Marin Catholic High School she took advantage of an opportunity that had a major impact on her future path. She was accepted to participate in a medical summer camp in Boston, which provided opportunities for students to explore the medical field, and also offered tours of a number of schools in the Boston area. She fell in love with Northeastern University and felt it was the right choice for her. She was particularly excited about the school’s cooperative education program. The co-op is a 6-month program that gives students the opportunity to experience first-hand working in various aspects of the medical field alongside professionals in healthcare and medical research facilities around the world.

Susan’s second co-op experience landed her where she currently works in ICU as a nurse assistant tending to Covid-19 patients. Most of her co-op colleagues had to go home because they were displaced from their housing when the shelter in place order was announced. Some chose to leave because they felt uncomfortable working in the environment of Covid-19. Susan lives in an apartment off campus and she was clear from the start about her choice to stay and work. “I knew I wanted to be here for this,” she says without hesitation. She is in the thick of it and like a warrior she does what’s needed, equipped with all the necessary “armor” to go to battle.

Like everyone else, Susan is adjusting to the new reality and takes pause as she remembers her everyday ability to go to school, see friends, take classes, or simply go to the grocery store with no concerns. She has a newfound appreciation for her health and the health of her family, and knows what a gift it is to still be employed during this time. These are things she will no longer take for granted once on the other side of this health crisis.

Reflecting on her current life, Susan understands the impact her training at Marin Ballet has had, and continues to have, on her journey to becoming a nurse. For starters, she recognizes that both are huge commitments. But perhaps something that stands out the most is the practice of practice! When she was in orientation for her nursing, there were many new skills she needed to learn. She always made sure to get hands-on experience so she could gain the confidence to ultimately be on her own and thrive in her field. She knew from her ballet training that to learn something new, and to learn it well, the best way was to dive right in rather than theorize on the sidelines. She said, “I always found that actually doing a skill and practicing it was better than just watching and hoping I would become better at it.” Marin Ballet gave her the tools to become better, but she knew from experience that it was ultimately up to her to better herself. She has found this approach is absolutely transferable to her current work.

Susan works with critically ill patients daily, but she doesn’t do it alone (read more). Teamwork is essential and communication is vital, even life-saving. Although she has to be responsible for her own skill and expertise in her area, she is also part of a collective which consists of technicians, nurses, doctors, and therapists, all of whom have to work together for the common goal of helping the patients. This is not an unusual experience for Susan and she easily draws the comparison to her days of dancing in the corps de ballet, where dancers were responsible for knowing their individual parts but also had to be aware of each other and work together for the sake of producing the best performance. If one person was off, it affected the whole. Dancers often encouraged and supported each other to be the best they could be, knowing it would only make the entire production better. Her work with her team on the floor of the hospital could be seen as a sort of choreography danced by people who are highly trained and well-rehearsed. Sound familiar?

We live in a culture where teenagers are asked to choose a career path. This can often feel like a daunting task. It’s perfectly natural not to know what you want to be when you grow up, but it may not always feel that way. The pathway is different for everyone. Staying open and taking advantage of opportunities can help steer one in the right direction. Getting sound guidance and advice is also important. Paying attention to what excites and inspires is a big one. Susan is grateful for the various decisions she made along the way, and that she had the experience of working as a nurse before actually choosing it as her path. She knows now that it’s a perfect fit. “I’m so lucky that I fell in love with what I chose. I never could have guessed that.”

Thank you, Susan!!