Herald Photo / Provided
ON THE JOB — Burke-Mulkey shares a smile.
Herald Photo / Provided ON THE JOB — Burke-Mulkey shares a smile.
Name: Lora Burke-Mulkey

Number of years in this position: In June it will be 19 years with Indiana Health Centers, Inc. In my current position, almost 11 years.

Describe a typical “day in the life” in your line of work: There is no typical day. However most consist of emails, phone calls, meetings, payroll, processing bills, processing orders, preparing reports, submitting reports, reviewing other’s reports, budget monitoring, and the yearly prep of the new budget. I have seven counties, so there is always something coming up. Oh, yeah, and there is the occasional food and/or restroom break. I also like to sneak out and talk to the participants, especially the little ones.

What are the skills, education, and training needed for your career?  Specifically for the WIC program: Education or credentials needed to do the assessments and educational aspects are to be a registered nurse or registered dietitian, or hold a nutrition degree that includes the high level nutrition courses as the focus (the 400 levels). 

To be a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor (Lactation Consultant) you must have a high school diploma and experience breastfeeding. We encourage each to become Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) and/or Lactation Educator Counselor (LEC) and/or Lactation Educator Specialist (LES).

To work as a clerk, a high-school diploma, good customer service skills, and basic computer skills.  

To work as a Nutrition Assistant, a high school diploma, and you are first a clerk and then complete training and pass an exam we developed.

What were you doing before taking this job?  I worked many years in dialysis, first as a tech and then as an RN. 

Did you have to make sacrifices at the start of your career? If so, what were they, and why was it worth it for you to make those sacrifices? To become a nurse you pretty much sacrifice any iota of a personal life for quite a few years. You make everyone you know drill you with flash cards until you are finished with school and state boards. And then you pay off student loans for 10 years.

To work for WIC initially was a financial sacrifice, but well worth it! To be on the more positive side of the life cycle was a welcome change. End-of-life care is difficult. You feel helpless to help most the way your heart desires. 

Why did you choose this line of work? I was turning 40 and really wanted a change; I had spent 15 years (on and off) in the dialysis world. I needed to do something with happier outcomes, more personal gratification (what I call my heart wage), and where I used my brain more than my brawn. 

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your career? WIC gives us an opportunity to see our patients grow, mature, become empowered by education, and to hear the most hilarious stories from children! 

The “thank you(s)” and the cases where you helped a parent, often with issues not even related to nutrition, but issues they trusted you enough to share with you and ask you for help with also are very rewarding.

What’s the most challenging part? Heartbreaking stories of the challenges participants have that we cannot fix. 

Staying in compliance with all the regulations, while still trying to help participants. 

Trying to eliminate the preconceived notions about the WIC program and about our participants. 

All the funding changes (and rumors of impending changes), limitations created by the funding itself, as well as all the rules and regulations regarding funding. 

How did you get your foot in the door?  I replied to an ad in the newspaper, interviewed, and was offered the job, three times actually! It was such a pay cut I really couldn’t do it until she came back each time with a little better offer, each time saying she really felt I was the right person. I finally crunched some numbers and took the leap. 

 What does it really take to make it and succeed in this career? You have to have the mission in your heart. You will not survive the challenges if you are not truly mission driven.

Patience and kind words, even if you receive unkind words. Love and respect for people. Willingness to plant seeds and patiently hope they grow. 
Describe one of the best moments you’ve had on the job: There are so many! 

Seeing the parents glow when you praise them. 

Seeing grandparents relieved when they find that WIC can help them with raising their grandchildren.
 When you can empower parents that have children with special challenges, helping them see they can do it. The funny things kids say! 

What’s the hardest part of the day? When you just can’t make someone happy. 

When regulations prohibit you from doing what the participant is asking you to do. 

The stories of children who are removed from homes. The sadness of the parent(s), the sadness of the stories, and the child sharing that they miss their mommy or daddy. Even though it is often for the best, it is still painful. 

Hearing the struggles of some and how some are disrespected or mistreated by others. 

Never really being done with your work. Most nurses finish a shift, report off, and they are done. In the WIC world we have to just stop, go home, and resume the next day.

What’s your most interesting encounter you’ve ever had with a person on the job?  It’s hard to choose just one. 

I had a gal once who I felt was being battered. I debated about mentioning my thoughts. I finally got brave enough and simply told her what I felt was occurring, that she did not have to confirm or deny, but if it was occurring she didn’t deserve it and that if she wanted help we could give her some referrals. She denied it. I felt I had not made a difference and perhaps should have just not said anything. Years later she came in, found me, and told me that day changed her life. She was away from her abuser, going to college, and her kids were in daycare program. She made my day! In fact, I share that story often, especially if a staff member is feeling frustrated.  

When we had the fire, as we were here trying to retrieve useable items, car after car pulled up. The patients driving by were distraught, asking where they would get the medicine, where they would see their doctor, where they would get their WIC benefits. I realized that day how very important what we do is and how many people depend on us.

And I do have to share my favorite encounter with a little girl. She was about 3 or 4 and peeking over the top of my desk. She said, “My dad used to be a truck driver.” I said, “Oh, he was?” to which she replied, “Yup, but now he is just a jerk.” The mother was quite embarrassed, but I had to giggle at the way she made it sound as if he had just changed jobs. I did get to have a good conversation with the mother about little ears and what we say out loud, so it led to a good teaching moment. But so funny!

Are there misconceptions about this type of work? If so, what are they? For me personally, some think a nurse is not a nurse anymore unless she is working in a hospital. But nurses are administrators, teachers, consultants, counselors, etc. We can use our degree in many ways.

That WIC is only for low-income families. We actually serve many middle income families as our income guidelines go up to 185 percent of poverty level and are based on household size. 

That we are just a free food program when in reality we are a nutrition education program. 

That WIC participants can buy anything they want, when our foods are specific ones that USDA has deemed nutritious. 

That WIC is the free formula program. The truth is we always encourage breastfeeding as the best choice. We fully support the decision of the mothers and support them in any choice they make. And yes we do give formula if they choose that option.

And the most annoying one to me is that WIC participants are just people “using the system.” In reality they are parents/caregivers who want to do what is best for their children. They want the education so they can do the right things for them. We believe all parents/caregivers want to do the right things. If they are not doing the right thing, it is related to a multitude of factors, but a lack of desire is not remotely a factor! 

What’s one aspect that’s integral to job that most people wouldn’t know? My job specifically, math, communication skills, diplomacy, to be self-driven. 

For WIC in general, the ability to listen and really hear, strong customer service skills, people skills, the ability to not take things personally, patience, integrity, and open mind and open heart. The desire to help others! 

What advice would you give to someone looking for pursue a career in your field? Do it! Any work in community healthcare or service is so rewarding. There is a difference between having a job and having a career. A career is much more gratifying!

And if you are a nurse, think outside the box. We can take on many different roles!

What was the very first job you had? What skills are you still using that were necessary in that job? Babysitting. The skills I learned and still use, the delighting in children, how their minds work, how they see beauty in so many things we adults are too busy to notice. 

As for my first real job, I was a nurse’s aide in a nursing home. The skill I think I bring from that experience is to share in the workload, nothing is below me or above me. Teamwork is essential.