Staff member honored with an award for her service is a ‘fixer’

People have told Yale staff member Jean Carusone that she can’t save the world, but that doesn’t keep her from trying.

People have told Yale staff member Jean Carusone that she can’t save the world, but that doesn’t keep her from trying.

“I happen to be a fixer,” says the account assistant and medical coder in the Department of Cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine. “I realize I can’t fix the whole world, but it is in my nature to do whatever I can do to make things better.”

For her dedication to helping others, Carusone was recently named a Community Advocate of the Year by Sweet Mother Inc., an organization dedicated to “celebrating outstanding strength in ordinary women,” according to its website. For the past six years, the organization has honored women who have successfully balanced motherhood with their business, profession, or community. Sweet Mother Inc.’s board of directors unanimously selected Carusone as one of two winners of the Community Advocate of the Year award.

Carusone was recognized for her mentorship of students at Branford Hall Career Institute, where for nearly a decade (2003 to 2012) she taught them about the medical coding industry. Since 2012, she has been teaching medical coding and billing to students in night courses at Gateway Community College, where she also helps them prepare for the American Academy of Professional Coders national exam. A former student at Branford Hall Career Institute nominated the Yale staff member for Sweet Mother’s Community Advocate Award, which is presented to women whose activities and influence have “made a significant impact” in their communities.

As a teacher, Carusone was cited for going to extra lengths to ensure that her students became “well informed about the medical billing industry” and for offering some of them internships in her office that later led to job placements.

“I tell my students that all of us in the classroom will be their family for the duration of the course, and I really mean that,” says Carusone. “I do whatever is in my power to help them succeed. Some of us have become lifelong friends.”

Her caring, Sweet Mother Inc. noted in its award citation, has also extended beyond the classroom. Once, Carusone hosted a benefit dinner/dance in support of a student who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Carusone raised $7,000 in just over a month, and cooked the entire dinner herself.

“My student was a single mother who had already had a hard life when she was diagnosed with cancer,” says Carusone. “She had been given just a couple of days to live, but she fought every single day and lived for four years. She called me a mentor. I told her that I can’t fix what she has, but that I could at least offer her a little bit of support. “

Later, Carusone learned that a co-worker at her day job at the Gastroenterology Center of New England had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. For a couple of months, the Yale staff member devoted her Saturday mornings to cooking a few meals for her co-worker and her family. During one visit, the co-worker’s husband mentioned that he was worried about whether he’d have enough money to cover heating costs that winter.

Carusone immediately organized another benefit. She partnered with another co-worker to cook for a benefit dinner and raffle, this time raising $10,000.

“I could not hear about the possibility of a cold winter for the family without doing something,” says Carusone.

The Yale staff member credits her upbringing with making her a caring person.

“I was raised Catholic, so we were taught to feed the hungry and clothe the naked,” she says. “My mother used to clean the altar and take the nuns to doctors’ appointments As a kid, I was the helpful one. I hung out with my mom a lot. She was — and still is — my best friend.”

Many of Carusone’s students have been single mothers, an experience the Yale staff member can relate to. She divorced in 1998 when her children were 8 and 11, and has been a single parent ever since.

Carusone had been working as an emergency medical technician when she decided in 1996 to go to school to learn medical billing at the now-defunct Connecticut Business Institute in North Haven. She has since become a certified procedural coder and certified medical biller. She joined the Yale staff in 2011, working in the Section of Digestive Diseases before moving to her current job in cardiology.

Carusone decided to teach when she realized that there were not enough qualified employees in her field.

“I have gotten a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’ve helped put qualified people in the workforce,” she says of her teaching career.

She puts a lot of time and thought into how best to be a caring and accessible teacher, Carusone says.

“Many of my students are people who are in their 30s, 40s, or 50s who are making a career change,” she explains. “I tell them that I’m committed to them as a teacher, but they don’t get to pull any punches. I tell them, ‘If you fail, I fail.’ But we also laugh and have fun. This subject is too serious to not break it up with a little bit of fun.” She doesn’t give her students a syllabus because she realized that in the past they would become overwhelmed when they saw how much material they would be covering in her class.

The best rewards for her own kindnesses, the Yale staff member says, are to hear that someone she has taught or supported considers her a mentor or a friend.

“Having someone tell me that I helped them reach the place he or she is in life is a huge reward for me,” says Carusone. She follows that comment by quoting from the verse “What Will Matter” by Michael Josephson of the Josephson Institute of Ethics about the how to measure the value of one’s life:  “What will matter is not what you bought but what you built, not what you got but what you gave… What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught…”

“Living a life that matters is a choice,” says Carusone. “I’ll be helping other people for as long as I am able.”

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