Episode #7: Balancing Photography and Nursing Careers, with Rosem Morton
It’s challenging enough managing one career but try balancing two. Rosem Morton does just that as a photographer as well as a nurse in Baltimore, Md. In this episode, she talks about how she got into photography, what she learned about money from her family, when she hopes to leave nursing to photograph full-time and how she started day trading stocks. Rosem’s photographs have appeared in many publications including the New York Times, NPR and National Geographic.
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FULL TRANSCRIPT from 01:10
Laura Hi, Rosem, thanks so much for agreeing to be on the show.
Rosem Hi, Laura, thank you for having me. I’m really honored to be here.
Laura So, Rosem, you have such an interesting career background because you are working nurse and you are also a working photographer. How did you come to have both of these in your life?
Rosem So I went to nursing school when I migrated here from the Philippines. And I also really saved a lot of money because I was really interested in photography and didn’t have a camera at that time. So, once I was able to save up for a camera, I was just always taking photos on the side. Nursing has been a really good career for me. And I’ve been a nurse for about nine years. And like halfway through it, I was just kind of thinking, you know, maybe I needed a change. And I really wanted to see if there was something in photography I could do.
Laura What I’ve seen in your photography is that you’re oftentimes using your education as a nurse to create photos and to create stories and essays. Is that on purpose just because it’s what’s there or is there something bigger you’re trying to do?
Rosem It was definitely not on purpose in the beginning. I really didn’t want to do nursing stories right off the bat because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed to this one topic. But when COVID happened and as much as I learn about what issues are pressing in the country, I just feel really driven to tell those stories because I feel like I have this insider knowledge that I can offer the storytelling.
Laura So honest moment here, how do you support yourself more? Is it with nursing or is it with photography or is it kind of both at this point?
Rosem I guess now it’s both at this point. Last year it was more freelancing than nursing. And then this year it’s kind of hard to tell yet.
Laura That’s interesting, though, last year was more photography, but I feel like nurses were needed everywhere because of COVID.
Rosem I think because of the need for COVID storytelling, especially in the beginning, I was able to tap into that niche pretty early. And then and then I kind of stumbled into my first commercial work also last year. That kind of really helped me earn more in photography than I did in the nursing field.
Laura Yeah, commercial work pays pretty well. So, what are your hopes for your career like when do you well, do you hope to quit nursing at some point and be a full-time photographer? And if so, when do you think that will be?
Rosem I mean, I’d love to transition out of nursing. I think I think I’m ready at this point. And I think the pandemic really sped that process up for me. But I don’t really know when it’s going to happen. Maybe by the end of the year. I think a lot of it is really driven by finances and my financial goals and things like that. If I feel ready, which how would you even know?
Laura I know. And especially after a year like last year, I feel like, you know, everyone had all these plans and ideas for what was going to happen with their career and their money. And then it’s just like totally blown up by something unexpected.
Laura Yeah. So, speaking of finances, what lessons did you learn about personal finances and running a business when you were growing up? And then how do those lessons impact you today?
Rosem I think growing up, I was very frugal about my money and I don’t know where I got that from because I think everybody else in my family spent a lot of their money. But I was always like I always had a piggy bank. I always put money in there. I never spent it. But I think also I saw my dad had a business in the Philippines. He had a tailoring business that did really well. But he I guess finances was not his strong point. And he sold his business and he didn’t even make any profit out of it. So, I think I like growing up and becoming an adult, I really learned a lot from that. And then migration and being conned as you move here by travel agencies and things like that. And even if my parents tried to prepare, they were like hit with a lot of things that we when we moved to America, we were we were not in a financially good place. I think all of this really impacted me as I really think about the future and which is also why I’m hesitant to immediately make the transition to becoming a freelance photojournalist just because of all of these scary risks that I’ve seen growing up. Yeah.
Laura Yeah, so you mentioned that there were some cons that you ran into as an immigrant. But what are the specific things that happen to you?
Rosem I believe my mom had a recruiting agency that got her and then they asked for all this money and then and then they kind of like ran away with it. So, then she had to go to a different, different company. I remember my parents had a college fund for all three of us. And we were at the time we were all about to enter college
Laura Sorry, all three of you. So, like you and two siblings?
Rosem Yes. Thanks for the correction. Yeah. Me and two older siblings, we were all about to enter college and my parents had saved up for a college fund. And then suddenly the company tanked and you never got your money again, which is kind of insane of what we do, you know.
Rosem So this was a company in the Philippines where it’s really hard to get, you know, lawyers and court kind of stuff involved. So, they never got their money. We all kind of had to move here, start from scratch. And my parents had to figure out how to finance college for three kids, which is crazy.
Laura How old were you when you moved to the United States?
Rosem I was 16, I believe. Yeah.
Laura OK, and how old are you now?
Rosem I am 30.
Laura Are you OK with saying that?
Rosem Yeah, I’m OK.
Laura Thirty’s so young.
Rosem I think because of the pandemic, this is the first time I got to actually say I’m thirty.
Laura [00:08:03] Why is that? Because you didn’t have a party?
Rosem Yeah. No party. You know I hid my birthday a long time ago in social media so nobody really knew. So yeah.
Laura Happy late birthday. I don’t even know when your birthday is. But happy late birthday. Or early birthday!
Rosem Late birthday and thank you.
Laura OK, so going back to talking about family. I know there can be quite a bit of family pressure when it comes to money, especially with immigrant families. So, I wanted to know if you faced any of this pressure and if so, how you’ve been able to cope with it.
Rosem Yes, there is definitely a family pressure to help your family, to help provide, especially in the Filipino culture. And like the first maybe five years or so that I was in nursing, I was giving half of my salary to my parents. And at the time, I lived with them maybe a year into working as a nurse. So that was hard. I think it’s hard to, like, wonder if I was always going to get tied to this sort of responsibility. And I personally had to create boundaries and pretty much tell my family that I’m sorry, I have to move out, first of all, and then the expenses of moving out and I can no longer support you. And not in a selfish way. I mean, I think if my family really needed the money, of course, I would give them the money. But they were they were living comfortably. So, I didn’t really feel the need that I needed to give them half of my salary, if that makes sense.
Laura Mm hmm. Are you able to talk about money or finances with them now?
Rosem Not so much. Like I feel like within the Asian culture, you do talk about money and you talk about numbers, but then there’s a part of it that you absolutely don’t talk about. You’re just always kind of tipping your toes around really hard topics, but you give each other numbers, but there’s no like true like deep dives into money if that makes sense.
Laura Yeah, I feel like that’s a lot of cultures. I mean, I think I feel like American culture is more open than a lot of Asian cultures, but still, there’s definitely a taboo around talking about money and finances and being, like, really honest about what’s going on.
Rosem Yeah, exactly. Which I think is super important. Like, I don’t really know how to navigate, like, finances, and I’m trying to learn as I go. And it would have been great to just kind of like have that from the get go, you know.
Laura What is your number one money concern that keeps you up at night?
Rosem I think, right before last year, the number one concern that I had was debt and paying off debt. And I think 2021 onwards, what keeps me up now, is longevity.
Laura Hmm, OK, can you expand on that, both the debt and the longevity? So, what kind of debt and what do you mean by longevity?
Rosem Yeah, so I’m married. My husband at the time when we married, had student loans. And then we both were nurses full time and we love traveling. So, we traveled so much. We did the works of like getting having a wedding, getting house, that sort of stuff. So, and we were not necessarily good with our money, especially because we knew there was an amount that comes every month that’s pretty regular. So, we accrued quite a lot of credit card debt and student loans. The pandemic made me really stressed out and worried if we were going to be able to pay this, if one of us was going to get sick, how is how is that going to work? So, I worked a lot of hours last year. I was probably working 80 hours a week, which is insane. We were definitely able to recover financially and pay off most of our debt, which has been amazing.
Laura Congratulations. You know, you should take some time to celebrate that. That’s really a big deal.
Rosem It’s definitely a great deal. And I’m so happy about that. It has taken a weight off my chest for sure. Now, of course, looking into the future, I wonder about longevity because I know – and don’t want to – work as many hours as I did back then, and I just don’t think that’s good for me. Now I wonder about longevity and how to make it in both fields or either fields.
Laura Now, we did talk before and you told me a little bit about your husband, so you both met when you were. You two met when you were nurses and now he is having a career change, and I know that affects your finances. Do you mind talking about that a little bit?
Rosem So, my husband, he was an ICU nurse. He was burned out right before the pandemic and the pandemic, of course, didn’t help. I’ve always been encouraging him to maybe go to photography school. And I know people have different journeys in entering the field. And I just felt like, oh, maybe school is a is a good avenue for you to enter photojournalism. So, yes, he was really burned out, took the leap. He’s in a program in the International Center for Photography in the documentary photography program which has been really amazing for him. He’s really happy. But that also means that there’s only one of us working for a full year. So, I think just a couple few more months, I think I have maybe four more months of being the only person working in this household.
Laura I imagine that you’ve actually felt quite stressed as the only breadwinner, because I’ve been in that situation a few times and I remember the first time I was in that situation, I was so stressed I broke out in hives. It’s not like I was forced into it. But I suddenly realized the weight of having all of the finances falling on me. And it just it came out physically.
Rosem Yeah. I mean, it is a very stressful thing to be to be the sole breadwinner. Actually, interestingly enough, in our household, I was always the person making more money. And I met my husband when he was in nursing school and I was working as a nurse. So, I’ve been in this situation before. This is now the second time. So, in some ways, I took comfort that I could handle it. I think what made it really stressful was we have a mortgage, which is a lot more than just having an apartment. But I also have this mentality of, like, if you put it out there, the universe is going to work out and you just do your best.
Laura What’s one of your financial goals now? You mentioned before that you had goals last year. What’s your goal this year?
Rosem I think I my goals are really abstract. Like, I guess I’d like to see a certain savings for me to be able to take some risk. And risk meaning taking some time off from the hospital to do maybe for work or maybe just take some time off to like decompress and things like that. So, I think when that happens, that would be kind of a good financial goal for me if there’s like a certain buffer for us that I could do those things. Yeah.
Laura Mm hmm. And you said that your husband will finish school in a few months. So probably he’ll get some kind of job or maybe he’ll start freelancing to make money again.
Rosem Which I guess which is why I’m hopeful. And that may be if I the earliest I could transition out of nursing might be by the end of the year when he’s a little bit more stable. Yeah.
Laura When you imagine transitioning out of nursing, what does that feel like to you?
Rosem It feels scary, like it feels really scary. I have a love hate relationship with my job. Like I know certain parts of it are super toxic and I should leave. But then I’ve also been there for so many years. So, there is this, like, even just thinking of leaving the people and not seeing them again is hard. There’s also a side of me that knows that like, mentally, I’m not in a good place anymore in terms of, like, small things start bothering me now that I know it’s really it is really time to leave.
Laura Hmm, yeah. What other than what advice would you give to other photographers who are in your situation, where they have one career and then their photographer and then their photography career is also ramping up? What would you say to them?
Rosem Oh, I think I would say to them to pursue photography. I think to follow your dreams. It’s always so hard to take your own advice. But I mean, I think, you know, life is so short. And that’s something we definitely learned throughout the pandemic year. And I think finding fulfillment in what you do to a day to day basis is really is really important. And if you know that, I think you’re already so fortunate than a lot of people in this country who struggle with what they want to do. I think photography really just demands a lot of grit to succeed and also find your own financial goals for it.
Laura At this point, how many nursing shifts are you taking per week and about how many photo assignments are you taking per week?
Rosem So for nursing shifts, I sign up for three eight-hour shifts in a week, and then I give most of those away when things are really busy. So, for the for example, for the last month, I’ve only really worked one eight-hour shift a week. Because I have such limited time, I only do assignments that I really feel passionate about or are drawn to. Like if it’s a low paying assignment that I didn’t really care much about, then I wouldn’t necessarily do it versus, you know, a high paying assignment and then it’s something I really wanted to do. And then I would really dedicate my time or even give away a nursing shift for it. The hours that I do an assignment work, I would say I really just do maybe five assignments in a month. And a lot of the work that I do behind the scenes are large projects. So, I actually try to apply for grants more than assignment work.
Laura OK, now grants, I feel like that’s, gosh, we could talk about forever, but, you know, there are so few grants and so many people who apply for them. So, how do you calculate that into your financial goals?
Rosem You know? Not really. That’s why it’s really hard for me to have like a really generic, like, financial plan. I go through waves of it’s like really dry season. And then suddenly, like, a lot of things happen all at once. And I have this huge lump sum of money. And I think that’s why nursing has been really good to supplement a lot of income for me that at least I can pay off a mortgage for, like I can work a few shifts and make sure that our mortgage is going to get paid off this month. And that’s why I worry also about longevity, because, like, my daily bills are going to be consistent versus the income flow, which worries me and keeps me up at night, I guess.
Laura Yeah, are there specific books or websites or anything that you read to try to educate yourself more about finances?
Rosem No specific books. I’ve started kind of playing around like the stock market. I’m kind of putting some savings there. Also hoping, hoping for growth and maybe more buffer as we – as my husband and I make more transition and changes in our careers. But who knows?
Laura This is interesting. You’re the first person I’ve talked to who says that they’re actually playing the stock market. So, what does that mean? Are you buying individual stocks or are you buying mutual funds? What is it?
Rosem So I have a retirement account with the hospital that I’ve been working at. The hospital isn’t matching my retirement but I am slowly putting away money on that front. I also have a retirement company that’s outside the hospital and I actually started that when I was like 18 and I was just putting one hundred dollars on it.
Laura Wow, that’s smart.
Rosem I think I’m only just giving one hundred dollars on it and… So, I haven’t really been looking into that as much. And then I when the pandemic hit and I also started having some savings, I really started kind of playing around in the stock market, buying some stocks, doing a couple of day trades and nothing, nothing too crazy. I’m trying not to be too risky as of now. But it’s a learning progress.
Laura Yeah, it always is. Did you buy GameStop a couple of months ago when it was hot?
Rosem I did. And then I always got a little too greedy and wait a little bit and when the stock crashes I’m like, oh man, I did that. I feel like I did that twice. And I’m like, all right. I don’t want to do anything so volatile like that because I it’s also so hard if you’re not watching the stock, like, all the time. But I do set some goals there. For example, I’ve seen this stock sell for this much and it’s a really low amount right now. I’ll buy it and then I’ll just set it to sell at this amount that I’ve set for the next three months. And that’s kind of how I’ve done my day trading. It’s not I’m not like watching it as much. I’m more like setting limits on the app for it to sell it. So, I don’t have to stress myself too much like watching it.
Laura What app do you use?
Rosem I use Robin Hood, which I think is controversial right now. I don’t know that it’s something I would recommend, but I it’s just because I’ve already used it and have put my stuff on it. So, I’m debating if I should stay or go or not.
Laura Hmm. How did you learn about day trading and what you should do and not do?
Rosem I’ve learned through YouTube, through reading some articles. I’ve also…. A lot of my peers are also on it. So, we talk about it a lot in social media and they’ll tell me stocks they’re looking into. I have some friends for us for some reason super into it right now. So, I just kind of pick their brain. And I have a very rudimentary understanding of all of this. Like I don’t read the graphs and understand everything. No. I am like the most layperson trying to figure out the stock market.
Laura What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned?
Rosem I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is I have actually photographed this, this guy who has been really famous at Clubhouse because he’s been hosting these shows on finance. So, when I photographed him and I started to pick his brain, he had this really great advice for me, which is like invest in what you know. For example, you’re in the health care field, he told me. You know the things that you’re using all the time. So, you know, invest in what you know so you’re not so overwhelmed in trying to do all the research.
Laura How long have you been day trading and are you making profit now?
Rosem I am making profit now. I have day traded since probably October of last year and I’ve probably made like two thousand dollars.
Laura What made you want to get into it?
Rosem I think I just saw a couple of friends do it. One day I had a friend of mine posted on social media that he was on Robin Hood and he was earning this much money. So, I like private messaged him and like, hey, how did you figure out how to do a stock market and stuff? And he was like, you sign up on the app. It’s super easy and you kind of figure it out. So that’s kind of like how I got my introduction. Like, a lot of people kept kind of encouraging me. And then one day I just kind of took the leap. It was like, you know what? Why not? Like, I know that this money will just stay in the bank and it won’t grow. And this is kind of a place where I could make moves to potentially have growth.
Laura Mm hmm. Does your husband also sorry, does your husband also use the app and trade stocks?
Rosem No, it’s just me I think I am the more I’m and the person in charge of a lot of our finances.
Laura What’s your main goal when you’re trading, are you just trying to make some money so you can pay bills or to save it for something or to buy something new? What is it?
Rosem So I have a funny goal dream and I like which is essentially to find the next thing that would blow up to help me retire early. That’s the dream. And then more realistic, I think the more realistic is just to make to make growth. It doesn’t have to be like exponential growth, but like to be able to find solid stocks that I know will grow over time and then and then also like find these small companies that are making significant changes to like have more income. And then I will I’ll just like sell it for a quick profit. But my day trading is not as active, like I don’t do it every day. I just maybe do it once every every two weeks just if I have the bandwidth for it, because it’s also really hard and it takes so much time. I think I spend…. I would say…. I would say a full day every two weeks.
Laura Do you limit yourself to a certain amount of money that you’re willing to trade?
Rosem Yes. Every two weeks I put up a couple hundred dollars in like I would buy something. And then I look at the stocks that I already have and see if there’s something there that that I want to trade and how they’re doing. So that’s kind of how I’ve done it every two weeks. Yeah.
Laura This is fascinating, the first day trader I’ve ever interviewed, and she’s also a photographer and a nurse.
Rosem I mean, I feel like I’m not an official day trader because I don’t even know the terms. Like, I’m talking very vaguely. And this is a very this is a very, like, rudimentary day trader talking.
Laura It sounds like you’re learning, though. It sounds like you try to do your research. Do you watch the videos and you really think about what you’re doing. Rosem, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your stories and talking about your career. I really appreciate it.
Rosem Thank you, Laura, so much for having me here in the show. Really happy to be here.