When she turned 50, Barb Vargo reflected on her life. She had a successful career as a volunteer coordinator for Hospice of the Hills, part of Rapid City Regional Hospital in South Dakota. Her three sons were now settled on their own. “This was the first time I felt like I could do something crazy,” Vargo says.
For her, that “crazy thing” was going to law school. Married to a prosecutor, Vargo had been surrounded by people who used their law degrees to make communities better. And in her job in hospice care, she’d seen how attorneys could provide clear and ethical advice to families. A home base in Rapid City did not yield many nearby law school options—Creighton is 520 miles away from her doorstep.
Finding a Path in Health Care
She had planned to use her retirement money to pay for law school, until receiving a generous scholarship from the Robert P. Heaney Family Fund. “Rapid City is my home, but what a gift this has been to be able to be here, in Omaha, 100 percent,” Vargo says. “I’m not trying to juggle school and a job.”
For more than 25 years, she’d balanced motherhood and a career as a volunteer coordinator, though the latter was not her original plan. While living with her husband in Miami, Vargo worked for a bank and volunteered in a hospice care facility. Eventually, she was asked to join the care facility’s paid staff as a volunteer coordinator. A newborn baby brought the Vargos to the Midwest. Just before moving, Vargo sent a letter to Hospice of the Hills, expressing her interest in a volunteer coordinator role. The hospice received that letter the day its coordinator resigned. So within two weeks, Vargo continued her career in Rapid City.
Hospices that participate in Medicare are required to use volunteers alongside paid clinical and administrative staff. Volunteers assist with a variety of activities; one of the primary ones is providing companionship and support for those receiving care. “It’s such a gift to be invited into people’s lives when they’re going through those tough times,” Vargo says. “I can’t imagine that my practice of law won’t continue to be in some sort of service to those folks.”
“I will go do good.”
While at Creighton, Vargo has continued working as a hospice volunteer at Methodist Home Health and Hospice in Omaha. When she graduates in 2018, she’ll receive her JD and a health law certificate and litigation certificate.
Over the summer, Vargo worked as a clerk in the attorney general’s office in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the Medicaid Fraud and Patient Abuse unit. “I have a hard time believing that health care won’t be a part of my world,” Vargo says. “Whether that is working for a health care organization or trusts and estates, that has just been a part of my life up to this point.” Though she’s not sure what exactly she’ll do when she graduates, Vargo knows, “I will go do good.”
She’s appreciated the support from her husband, her instructors and her fellow students in her nontraditional journey. “The collegiality of the other students at Creighton has been a huge advantage,” Vargo says. “There’s been a good environment of family, especially this first year. “It’s been fun being the ‘den mom’ of all these younger law students.”
The full version of this story appears in Creighton Lawyer Magazine.