Liz Calhoun planned to become a nurse practitioner, but marrying a U.S. Army staff sergeant changed her path.
“Every time you look at nursing school, it’s like a three-year commitment — and that’s once you get in,” said Calhoun, facilities coordinator for Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs. “I just don’t ever have that much time anywhere.”
Fortunately, the California native realized she felt just as fulfilled supporting clinical professionals. She worked in administrative support roles in drug and alcohol treatment, plastic surgery and specialty services before joining Children’s Hospital two years ago, shortly after moving to the Springs from Germany.
“As a military spouse, I have really seen a gap in resources and care for military kids. … So being able to be part of a facility that’s serving that community that’s near and dear to my heart is really, really cool,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun has a bachelor’s degree in health care administration from the University of Maryland Global Campus and is working toward a master’s in project management. She spoke with the Business Journal about her work at Children’s Hospital, her professional experiences as a military spouse, and how Colorado Springs can better serve that community.
Talk about your time with Children’s Hospital.
It’s been tremendous because it’s really rounding out my experience. I’ve worked in clinical support, I’ve worked in administrative support, but now I’m working in building support. My role is to assist the team of people that keep this building running — not just operational but also code compliance, regulatory compliance, accreditation compliance — [with] making sure that they have everything that they need. … I [also] help bridge the gap between the facilities team and our planning team on new construction, or warranty work and things that we’re working on.
Is there anything you’ve learned during your time in the health care industry that translates from job to job?
I think it just comes back to, you get that intrinsic motivation from helping people. Not everybody can be the hands-on person there helping them, but knowing that at the end of the day, if I don’t do my job correctly, then those people that are hands-on can’t do their jobs right. It is a vital part to that care of that patient, whether you’re in the room with a patient or you’re just making sure the air is safe to breathe or the temperature is appropriate. Those all play a vital role in that same patient care.
… I think that’s something that took me a long time to recognize. Having originally wanted to have been a clinical team member, it took me a while to adjust to not being in the room. But as I’ve gotten older and more experienced, I realized that these roles that I have held and will continue to hold do play an impactful, meaningful part in that overall health care.
Talk about your professional experiences as a military spouse.
I always knew that I was meant to be a professional. In my immediate family, no one else has gone to college. I knew that I wanted to go to college and be comfortable and successful for my children. What I didn’t know at that time was [that] I was going to marry someone in the military, and how much that would impact my goals and my plans in my life. What I’ve found out over the years as a military spouse is that it is really hard to grow professionally without a lot of effort. I have really been blessed to have come into my marriage with a pretty substantial work history so that sometimes I can get through the door for an interview. … But what I see a lot in my military spouse community is that people often can’t even get in the door. You have large gaps in your employment or other barriers. … I think [a lot of employers] see an expiration date when you come in the door. … Like, 10 percent more military spouses hold a degree or certification than the general workforce, but they are being passed over for people [who] may be less qualified because they don’t see that expiration date, or oftentimes they’re paid less because [the employer is] trying to proactively recoup the cost of that turnover rate. So something that I’m really passionate about — and that I think Colorado Springs … can do better as a community — is looking for ways to bridge that gap.
What issues do you think need priority?
I hear military spouses all the time say that they can’t afford to work. You think about child care; it doesn’t make any point for them to work. … When you’ve been under- or unemployed, you’re not building your Social Security; you’re not building retirement; you’re not building anything really meaningful for yourself. The divorce rate is also higher in the military than the general population, so you’re talking about spouses — disproportionately women — who haven’t built anything for themselves that may end up on their own and now you have no work history, no savings and nothing to go on. … I think we can do a better job in a community like this. Generally on average, [military bases] are usually out in the middle of nowhere, but Colorado Springs is an epicenter that is blowing up and is expected to continue to blow up, so we have a perfect place to launch better programs and better opportunities for this community.
How do you think military spouses can help improve these conditions?
I’m certainly not the expert, but I want to be. What I really want to focus on is finding a way to get advanced enough that I have free time and resources to mentor and find ways that I can bridge the gap, because I always wanted to be a professional and grow, and I feel like I could have been farther and done more by this point had I been in one place. I’m so happy that my dream brought me here because I feel at home here more than I ever have. … I’m grateful for the experience that has brought me, but I think that in the future, as a community, we can do better. … I think about spouses who aren’t able to work … so I think that’s even more important that those of us that can [work] set a good example. We create a good rapport with employers. … I think that we can do more. I can do more.