5:50 a.m.: Full speed ahead
It’s 5:50 on a Friday morning when Brett Thompson’s alarm goes off. Rather than hitting the snooze button, she springs into action with a morning routine that she has honed to perfection.
6 a.m.: On the job (one of the jobs)
By 6 a.m.—which alert readers will note is only 10 minutes after she woke up—she has gotten dressed, eaten an energy bar and some Greek yogurt, and arrived at the Waukee Hy-Vee Market Grille near her family’s home, where she works as a server from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. three days a week.
If the thought of starting work at that hour sounds daunting, you should hear how much this highly organized 19-year-old a full-time student at Mercy College of Health Sciences, enjoys it.
“We have a table of regulars who come in every single day, and even though they aren’t usually in my section, I always stop by their table to talk with them,” she says with enthusiasm. “They’re just super funny and have so many great stories to tell. They have so much experience, and I feel like there’s a lot I can learn from them.”
Her bond with the customers is deep. “This morning, one guy, who always orders the same thing and usually stays for a while, was in a hurry. I talked to him and found out his wife has breast cancer and he needed to be home in time to take her to chemotherapy,” she says. “Each of our customers has a whole life outside this place, and it’s important to remember that.”
The understanding of the whole person, will serve her well in her future career as a physical therapist assistant, where she hopes to with geriatric patients either in a nursing home or in in-patient rehabilitation, such as after joint replacement.
1:00 p.m.: Shower, lunch and a nap
After finishing work, she might head home for lunch and a shower, followed by a nap, laundry, or schoolwork. Although she lives with her parents and two younger siblings, she is independent and does her own grocery shopping and meal preparation. Lunch or dinner is often a bag of frozen vegetables – “They take six minutes to microwave, so I can get my shower in while they’re cooking, plus there is protein in broccoli,” she notes.
5 to 6 p.m.: Sharing her love of dance
A little before 5, Brett leaves her house and drives to her second job, teaching private dance lessons at Westside Dance Academy in Waukee. “I give two students 30-minute private lessons,” says the lifelong dancer, who also teaches group lessons for dancers from preschool to age 12.
In one more year, she’ll have the experience to apply for certification from Dance Masters of America, which will allow her to teach in many places — a plus for someone who doesn’t yet know where her health care career will take her.
6:30: to 7:30 p.m.: Dance practice
Brett is performing in “Lilac Fairy” a variation from the ballet Sleeping Beauty in Yaro Dance Company's Winter Showcase, a local nonprofit, in January. This rehearsal might last 45 minutes or an hour. She is also in rehearsals for the Iowa Dance Theatre’s “Nutcracker,” in which she will dance as the Rose Queen and as a Snow Crystal. It all adds up to about three rehearsals per week.
11 p.m.: Bedtime
Unlike those of us who might find ourselves collapsing at nine while watching reruns of a favorite show on Netflix, Brett usually stays up until 11 and gets up at the same time every morning.
Tuesdays and Thursdays: Class time 9 to 3
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she has class at Mercy College from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., where she is studying to become a physical therapy assistant. “I like the program and my professors very much,” she says.
Most of the other students in this five-semester program have already earned a bachelor’s degree before being accepted into Mercy’s PTA program, making Brett one of the youngest in the class of 11, but that does not faze her at all. “It’s surprisingly not been an issue at all,” she says. “In fact, we were just having a discussion about our graduation from Mercy College next spring, and some people were saying they might not walk in the ceremony … until someone else said, ‘we’ve walked in college graduation, but Brett hasn’t, and we need to walk with her!’
Dance class on the daily, from ballet and pointe to modern and hip-hop
Daily dance class is a constant in Brett’s busy life. In addition to giving lessons and attending rehearsals, she takes a dance class every day of the week, including Wednesdays, the only day she doesn’t have class or work at one of her jobs. On Thursdays, it’s a hip-hop class with her brother, a senior at Waukee High School.
It’s easy to see how all the time she spends in dance informs her future career in physical therapy. “I love the connection between physical therapy and dance,” she says. “If something hurts, I know exactly which muscle it is, and why it hurts. It lets you think about it in a different way. That relates to physical therapy – you educate people about pain and why they feel it, and help them think about it in a different way as they work to overcome it.”
In addition to her face-to-face classes at Mercy College, Brett is also taking two online courses, which allows her to work around her schedule. She keeps everything straight with the help of an old-fashioned, paper planner, down to when she’ll do what homework for each of her classes and when she has a spare hour to shop for Christmas presents.
During time off over the Thanksgiving holidays, she enjoyed hanging out and shopping with her younger brother and sister, visiting her family, checking out Christmas lights and just relaxing.
Brett is eager to work with actual patients under the supervision of her instructors starting in January, and then it's onto fulfilling her dreams!