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‘This shaped me into the person I am today’

April 4, 2019

Adult Practical Nursing student Erica Putch practicing with a mannequin

Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Adult Practical Nursing Program student Erica Putch practices on a mannequin in a Herkimer BOCES nursing program lab at the Remington Educational Complex in Ilion. For information on the adult LPN program, visit

At 11 years old, Erica Putch would spend from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on many Thursdays and Fridays receiving aggressive treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

She would have two weeks off, before returning to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse for another Thursday and Friday of treatments. This lasted for three months.

“I hated hospitals,” she said. “I hated everything, until the nurses made me feel comfortable. I wanted to be just like them.”

A cancer survivor, Putch still has some health complications and goes to yearly checkups, but the way those nurses treated her served as an inspiration as she set her mind on a nursing career for herself.

“Nursing has always been my dream,” she said. “To become a nurse.”

Putch, of Herkimer, graduated from the Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Health Science Careers program in high school, spent three years working as a certified nursing assistant at Valley Health Services in Herkimer, earned an associate degree from Mohawk Valley Community College, currently works as a phlebotomist at the St. Elizabeth Campus in Utica and is a student in the Herkimer BOCES Adult Practical Nursing Program.

She is succeeding in the Herkimer BOCES part-time day program, where she is training to become a licensed practical nurse, Nursing Program Coordinator Sara Nicolette said.

“She’s a quality individual,” Nicolette said. “She’ll make a wonderful nurse. I would let her take care of me or my family any day.”

‘Go for it’

As a high-school student at Herkimer, Putch heard about what is now the Herkimer BOCES Health Science Careers program during Sophomore Visitation Day and learned it would be a good option for beginning her nursing career.

“I wanted to start at the very bottom,” she said, noting that she thinks it’s important for a nurse to work her way up the ladder in order to be capable of all aspects of the job.

Putch said the two-year Career and Technical Education program, which she took under then-instructor Brenda (Bouchard) Goodfriend when it was called Health Occupations, reaffirmed her aspirations for a nursing career.

“It was amazing,” she said. “It was hands-on. The teachers were amazing. We did a lot of clinicals for that too. I just loved it. Once I started that program, I knew I wanted to continue on.”

As current students do, Putch did clinical work at Valley Health Services. You work closely with employees and the residents and patients – with many responsibilities, Putch said.

“You either like it or you don’t,” she said.

Putch graduated from Herkimer BOCES in 2013 and then worked for about three years as a certified nursing assistant at Valley Health Services.

She said she would recommend the Health Science Careers class to students considering it because it will make you realize either that you don’t like it or that you have found a job you want for your future.

“I would say go for it,” she said, adding that the teachers at Herkimer BOCES are very supportive. “They don’t want to see you fail. They try to help you.”

‘Here I am’

Putch earned her associate degree in liberal arts and sciences from Mohawk Valley Community College and went through a 2.5-month training program at MVCC to become a phlebotomist technician, which has been her job for about the past three years at the St. Elizabeth Campus.

She was applying to schools to become a registered nurse, but her options were limited because she didn’t want to move away. The ones she tried weren’t working out, and she was getting frustrated. She heard about the Herkimer BOCES Adult Practical Nursing Program and that the two-year, part-time day program would also allow her to keep working while training to become a licensed practical nurse.

“So I thought, ‘Why not go for LPN?’” she said. “So here I am. I love it. It challenges me every day.”

Putch has continued her phlebotomist technician job while attending the program – doing part-time work during the first year and now dropping down to per diem during her second year to focus on completing her studies.

“It’s very hard to balance school and work,” she said. “I got used to it. Time management is key.”

Her clinical rotation has included work with the Sitrin Health Care Center, Masonic Care Community, St. Luke’s Campus, Little Falls Hospital and primary care doctors. She has had the opportunity to take on many tasks – such as physical therapy, the operating room and emergency room.

“A little bit of everything,” she said. “It makes you see what you really want to do.”

Teachers and classmates

The Adult Practical Nursing Program not only teaches you about nursing, but about how to study and take tests – including doing practice tests, Putch said.

“I was never a good studier in high school or in college, until I came here to this program, and then I learned how to study – because without studying, I would not be here with this program,” she said.

The teachers are very helpful, she said.

“They want to see you walk across the stage and pass your boards,” she said. “The teachers have started off right where you did. I think that’s really cool – that they also climbed the ladder like us. The teachers here are great. I just love the program, and I wouldn’t be who I am today and becoming a nurse without it.”

Putch also has enjoyed getting to know all the people she has been going to school with. They take the studying and preparation seriously, but they also have to find times to laugh – such as when a mannequin’s head falls off in the lab, she said.

She has a study group with two people she is particularly close with, and all the students work together to plan holiday parties on their own and what food to bring.

“You really do get to become such good friends with your classmates because we’re here all the time,” she said.

‘Stays with you’

Putch recommends the program to others interested in nursing.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” she said. “To get through this, you have to be 100 percent dedicated to it. It is a lot of hard work, but it pays off in the end because you learn so much.”

One moment that stands out for Putch was during her first clinical at Masonic

Care Community, when she was asked to develop a care plan for a patient. She didn’t know if she could do it, but when she went to, it clicked, and she realized she had developed the critical thinking skills needed to be a nurse.

“Once you get it, it just stays with you,” she said.

Putch wants to work as a nurse in surgery or with a primary care doctor – which ties back to her positive experience with nurses as a child, she said. She wants to work as an LPN for a period of time and maybe eventually try to become a registered nurse, she said.

Nicolette said she would be supportive of that plan.

“I’m hopeful that this is just the next step in her nursing education and she continues on from there,” Nicolette said.

‘The difference’

When Putch is working with patients, she still remembers what it’s like to be in a hospital bed.

“I do because I know exactly what they’re going through,” she said. “So when a good nurse comes along, you feel better, and that’s how I want to be with my patients.”

The fact that Putch still reflects on her experience as a cancer patient when working as a nurse isn’t surprising, Nicolette said.

“It shows clearly in her dedication,” Nicolette said.

Putch said taking the Herkimer BOCES Health Science Careers class and now the Adult Practical Nursing Program has had a major impact on her life.

“This shaped me into the person that I am today,” she said. “I wouldn’t be who I am. I like who I am now. It’s amazing – I used to be so shy. Now, I can talk to anybody.”

Putch used to be hesitant when talking to people including patients, but she has learned when to tell jokes or offer other calming words.

“I kind of realized what to say to make someone feel better,” she said.

Everything about the nursing industry still comes back to those nurses who helped her as a cancer patient.

“I hated it, and I came to love it,” she said. “They just made me feel so comfortable, and they’re amazing.”

Now, she feels that she is prepared to do the same for a patient in a similar situation to what she was going through.

“Absolutely,” she said. “It’s just crazy seeing the difference in me.”

Student Erica Putch at desk in classroom with two books open

Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Adult Practical Nursing Program student Erica Putch studies from her nursing books in a classroom at the Remington Educational Complex in Ilion. For information on the adult LPN program, visit

Student Erica Putch holding up stethoscope in nursing lab

Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Adult Practical Nursing Program student Erica Putch holds up her stethoscope at the Remington Educational Complex. For information on the adult LPN program, visit