Carole Smith has had a lifelong career as a caregiver. Growing up in Brooklyn, she lived in her grandparents’ five-family apartment building, which housed the candy store they owned. By eight years of age, she was helping customers with their requests.
“Both young and old frequented the candy store,” recalls Mrs. Smith, “I learned to be cordial to everyone.”
At a young age, Mrs. Smith possessed qualities that make a great nurse; she was respectful, compassionate, and adept at interacting with all types of people. She found the older customers to be pleasant and friendly: “I never experienced any fear of the elderly as their physical or mental states diminished…while individuals with little contact with the elderly often fear this group.”
In 1959, Mrs. Smith began nursing school in the Department of Mental Hygiene at Kings Park State Hospital. While she received her nursing education at the hospital, the DMH students were sent to Adelphi University to receive their 35 liberal arts and science credits. Little did Mrs. Smith know then, she would return to Adelphi over twenty years later to continue her education.
In September 1962, she got married and moved to Massachusetts, upon Mr. Smith’s acceptance into Harvard Business School two weeks later. Mrs. Smith returned to New York to receive her diploma in nursing from Kings Park State Hospital’s School of Nursing.
She accepted her first job at New England Deaconess Hospital, where she worked on the medical diabetic floor before being promoted to night charge. By the time her husband graduated from Harvard, they had two children under the age of one. Once Mr. Smith graduated, their family returned to New York, and they had three more children.
Not only was her nursing background useful in raising her four children; Mrs. Smith also utilized her nursing skills as she provided care for her extended family. She and her husband provided care for her husband’s elderly aunt, and later the same care for her “candy store grandmother.” When Mrs. Smith’s mother-in law, father, mother, and another aunt were in need of aid, they continued 24 straight years of care-giving.
After working in geriatrics at an extended care facility, in an oral surgeon’s office, and as the manager of a printing company and a greeting card merchandiser, Mrs. Smith decided it was time to fulfill her lifelong dream: to get her bachelor’s degree. A mother of two college students at the time, she enrolled in Adelphi’s University College. She was apprehensive at first, but once she began her classes, Mrs. Smith knew she was in the right place.
“It was like I had been living in a paper bag,” recalls Mrs. Smith. “At Adelphi, I unrolled the top of the bag, poked my head out, and thought, ‘Oh my God, there is so much out there for me to learn!’ I loved the courses I took at Adelphi.”
In 1986, Mrs. Smith proudly graduated from Adelphi with her bachelor’s degree in social sciences. “Obtaining my bachelor’s degree added to my self esteem,” recalls Mrs. Smith. “It allowed me to feel success, and gave me what I needed to establish a new goal: a master’s degree.”
It is no surprise that Mrs. Smith pursued a master’s degree in gerontology. An expert in the impact that care-giving has on the family, she also graduated with a specialty in counseling, “to enable me to work with families of the elderly.” Upon graduating with her degree from Hofstra University, Mrs. Smith put both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees to work at the Parker Jewish Geriatric Institute of Long Island Jewish Hospital.
Mrs. Smith’s advice to students, of any age, is simple: “Stick to your dream.”
Mrs. Smith lives with her husband in New Hampshire and New York. In her free time, she paints, volunteers, enjoys her family, and travels with her husband “as much as possible.”
When and why did you first want to become a nurse?
My father was the son of Polish immigrants, and very strong-willed. He felt that the best thing he could do for his children was to make sure they received a good education. When I graduated from Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, I wanted to be a Maryknoll Missionary; so, I thought I would go to college for social work. My father said I was too young to make such a decision, and told me I would go to college to become a teacher or a secretary. He had a female friend who had graduated from Seton Hill College in Pennsylvania, and did well for herself. He told me that I would go there too. I went there for a year, but it was too cold, too gray, and too far from home – a nine hour train ride!
I came back in May, ready to stay home for the summer, even though I usually went off to camp. In order to stay home, I needed to get a job. I applied for several jobs, none of which my father approved of. Finally I went to Meadowbrook Hospital, now Nassau University Medical Center, and was accepted into their nursing aide program. There were 16 kids in the program; 11 were male and all were pre-med. The other five were women; all were four year nursing students…except me. After two weeks of training, I was put in emergency, where I spent the rest of the summer. At eighteen, I delivered two babies on my own! I wondered: if I couldn’t be a social worker, could I be a nurse?
In July I approached the head nurses who told me to apply to their schools, since they would write recommendations for me. I applied to Lennox Hill and Kings Park Hospitals; with a year of college under my belt, both accepted me. I chose Kings Park, without my father knowing I was entering nursing school. He wanted his daughter to have an easier life than he imagined a nurse would have. My mother assured me that she would handle it. When I was “pinned” a year later, my father accepted my decision. He was proud to have a daughter who was soon to be a nurse.
Do you have favorite memories of your time at Adelphi?
When I began taking classes at Adelphi’s University College, I was 40 plus years of age. I thought to myself, “Can I do this?” I took my first course with Sal Primeggia. When I got an A in the course, I knew I could do it. After my husband told my two children, also in college, about my A, they called home and teased me for getting better grades than they did, telling me that nobody likes a brain, and there was more to school than grades. The next semester I took two more courses and got two more A’s; this time my kids did too!
Adelphi had the nurturing environment that I needed. I could write term papers, study, and living in the same town, fulfill my responsibilities as a mother and a wife. Years later, after our daughter successfully completed treatment for anorexia, Adelphi once again nurtured and nourished our family by allowing our daughter to complete her bachelor’s degree there. Thank you Adelphi, from two grateful alums!
My academic adviser was helpful, supportive, knowledgeable, and understanding. My professors kept my interest in all subjects. They enabled me to complete my lifetime goal of earning a college degree. Receiving my degree was a validation for me. It proved that I could earn the degree my parents had always wanted for me. Graduation was wonderful. It was a very proud day.
What advice would you give to today’s nursing students?
Embrace life, be open to opportunities, never stop learning, give of yourself, love and allow yourself to be loved.
Don’t give up if you sincerely believe in something. Take a chance; ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Then ask yourself if you could live through it if the worst happened.
Ask the question. The answer to a request or a raise could be no, but it might be yes, and you would never know if you didn’t ask. A positive answer was given to me and another nurse, Lea TrentaRange Infranca, when we approached Adelphi with the idea of starting a refresher course for nurses—still in existence today.
Leave every job on the best possible terms; you may need a reference. Try to have a new job lined up before leaving the old one.