A passion for the elderly

When Valerie Shoemaker graduated from college, it wasn't hard for someone with a head for numbers to get a job in finance.

So she managed to stay steadily employed in the aerospace industry, until there were layoffs in the 1990s. For awhile, she took a break to raise her child, but then 15 years ago, she joined the pharmaceutical industry in finance. It seemed like a wise choice -- business was booming and the future looked bright.

Valerie Shoemaker

The culture at what was then Astra-Merck was entrepreneurial as well and the rigid silos that seemed to develop later hadn't set in yet. So, just to do something different, she moved into clinical trial administration. In both jobs, attention to detail counts.

"Maybe it would easier to find a job if I had stayed on the financial side," Shoemaker, of Wilmington, wonders now. "But I was learning something new."

While she was at Astra, life happened. An elderly relative required her care and like so many others, Shoemaker struggled with balancing work and family obligations. To ease her stress, she started a support group at Astra for people like her. "I loved what I did," she said. "I could have made it a fulltime job."

That had been her intent, to somehow use the support group as a bridge to a new career, but Astra-Zeneca laid her off in December 2009, before her idea jelled into something more.

Working to help the elderly has a lot of appeal for Shoemaker, who would like to incorporate it somehow into her work. Part of it comes from her childhood. She was raised by her great-grandparents and she cared for both of them at the end of their lives.

Just as Shoemaker lost her job, her sister was, unfortunately, losing a battle for her health. "It was a blessing," Shoemaker said. "I was able to take care of her and I wouldn't have been able to do it if I had been working."

Lately, she's been getting a lift from the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association's Women in Transitions group. They are reconnecting her with her industry. For someone who never had a problem getting a job before, the group is valuable. "I know networking is the key," said Shoemaker.

She feels that she has the flexibility that she never had before -- her children are grown, her options are many and she has the freedom to pursue a job and a dream, wherever it may lead.

Update: As of December 2011, Shoemaker was still looking for work.


  • Valerie Shoemaker
  • Hometown: Wilmington
  • Profession: Clinical research associate, finance analyst
  • Experience: Spent decades in the pharmaceutical sector, first in finance and later coordinating clinical research, helped standardize procedures, recruited, trained and mentored team members, implemented an improved process for archiving clinical trials.
  • Education: University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University, finance, business administration and economics.
  • E-mail address: VTShoemaker@gmail.com
  • Valerie Shoemaker's pharmaceutical resume
  • Valerie Shoemaker's resume for eldercare

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The Inquirer is not endorsing this individual as a job candidate; potential employers should do their own background checks.

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.