Nicole Orlando Smith applied for a role at Spectrum Health Systems on a whim in 2014. She had comprehensive experience working in mental health—addressing issues like depression and anxiety after earning a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling with a focus on trauma—but she had no direct experience in addiction recovery. “I was very green, as we say,” she commented, laughing.
She was surprised, when, later that day, she got a call back from Spectrum suggesting that she’d be a great fit. She didn’t know what to expect, but she felt immediately welcomed and embraced by the Spectrum team.
Finding Her Place in the Recovery World
Starting off, she worked as an outpatient clinician at Spectrum’s Haverhill location. Gaining experience in substance use disorders and bringing her mental health expertise, she quickly became a vital resource for Spectrum clients. “I just wanted to make them feel comfortable,” she said. “It’s hard enough when you first start off in recovery, and I just wanted people to feel safe, to know they’re getting the help they need.”
In a few short years, Nicole had worked her way up to a senior clinician position, and though she always found Spectrum to be a supportive environment, she decided to leave in 2016. “I just wanted to see what else was out there,” she said. She found another position in the field, and while she was glad to be making a positive impact on the lives of the people she worked with, she found that her new role lacked the sense of community she had found at Spectrum.
Nicole’s new job also lacked the work-life balance she’d struck in her Spectrum position. “My weekends were taken up and I didn’t see my family as often,” she said. Eventually she left the addiction recovery field entirely and began working with children. She found the work gratifying, but after a few years she still missed the comradery and support she had at Spectrum.
A Welcome Return
She had kept in touch with her former Spectrum coworkers, and in 2020, she decided to reapply. Little did she know, the day she submitted her resume, another Spectrum team member had announced their retirement. “When I came back, they were there with welcoming arms,” she said. “I felt like I belonged; I was part of the team.”
She returned to the Haverhill location before moving to Saugus the following year. At Spectrum’s Saugus outpatient facility, Nicole oversees the day-to-day operations. She hires staff and oversees three clinicians, assuring that more than 200 patients at the center are receiving quality addiction treatment. “Not every day is easy,” she said. But she enjoys empowering Spectrum’s clinicians to do the best they can.
She fosters an atmosphere of encouragement with her team, making sure everyone feels welcome to bring their own ideas to the table. And she believes the harmony her team shares is passed down to the clients, who also feel more welcomed and validated in their recovery.
Making a Difference
In the years she’s spent working in addiction treatment, she’s seen a lot of change. Things like telehealth developments to distribute medication for substance use disorders are welcome signs of progress, she feels. “There’s more access to care,” she said. “If one of our outpatient clients is struggling, we have an Uber Health account. We can send a car to their house to pick them up and take them to a facility offering a higher level of care.”
She’s proud of the resources she’s helped make available to Spectrum clients. While she’s accepting of the fact that she can’t guarantee anyone long-term recovery, she knows she’s made a difference in many peoples’ lives, a fact that’s profoundly meaningful to her.
For information about working at Spectrum Health Systems and available job opportunities, visit the careers page on our website.