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My journey into healthcare, Cheryl Elkins, RN

Published on Tuesday July 9, 2024
Inga Wilkerson

I never dreamed of becoming a nurse or anything else in the healthcare field. I was the major caretaker for my mother who battled two types of cancer and lost her life to Mesothelioma. I learned so much from the caregivers who cared for her in the hospitals and clinics where she was a patient.

I was in awe of them and their selflessness and thought I could never do what they did. My biggest regret from my nursing career is that my mother passed away seven years before I became a nurse. She would have been so proud, however, I’m thankful my aunt and sisters were there to cheer me on in her place.

Before entering healthcare in 2018 as an LPN, I spent 28 years in the food service industry. The last 14 years were spent as a Food Service Director on three college campuses. When people comment that nursing is a drastic change from food service, I remind them that really it is not, both careers are based on customer service. Caring for others comes in many different forms, nursing is just providing customer service to those experiencing some of the worst times of their lives.

I decided it was time to try something new in 2016 and left my director position at Hampden Sydney College not really having a clear path in mind. I spent a week at a hospital in Roanoke with my uncle who had experienced a major heart attack. He was very combative with the staff, so my sisters and I stayed around the clock to be with him.

One night, an incredibly special nurse sat with me in his room, and she asked what I did for a living. I told her that I had very recently left my career in food services and was looking for something new. She soon planted the seed for a career in nursing, commenting on how I cared for my uncle, toileting and changing bed linens in addition to feeding and consoling him. After that, I started to watch the different Caregivers that worked with him and began to explore the idea.

In 2017, I started my career at Centra College where I completed my practical nursing certificate in December 2017 and my associate degree in nursing in December 2020. In 2023, I began working on my bachelor's degree in nursing through Western Governor’s University and plan to complete it in 2025.

After finishing my associate's degree in nursing in December 2020 during the COVID-19 Pandemic, I was excited to be offered a position on VAU which was the COVID-19 ICU. It was an honor to help those critically ill patients and the staff that had been battling the pandemic for over a year. It was also hard, being a new RN, in such a stressful role where I witnessed so much sadness and despair.

After six months on that unit, I experienced burnout that led me to move to the Cardio Thoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU). This is where I truly fell in love with my Caregiver role. During my time on CTICU, I took in a 96-year-old neighbor that my husband and I had been helping for years who was no longer able to care for herself. Because this was a 24/7 job itself, I felt I could no longer safely care for my cardiac patients due to fatigue and left the role for a more accommodating schedule in ambulatory surgery. My neighbor passed away last November, and next month I will return to the Cardiac Family, and I am so excited to be going back “home!”

I love working in healthcare, and I am a firm believer in helping those that cannot help themselves. I give a piece of my heart to every patient I care for, every family I listen to and encourage, and every student I precept. Working for Centra has been a blessing to me, and I have learned from every individual I have worked with.

I am thankful for how Centra offers the flexibility to move within the organization as you learn and grow. I have moved into different roles to accommodate family changes that mandated a different work schedule for me, and I have been able to develop and adapt my skills through each of those roles.

Ultimately, I have been so rewarded as a nurse. I feel blessed each day I walk through the doors of the hospital that I get to touch so many lives. When my patients and their families trust me enough to share all their personal fears and feelings, I know that my purpose has been achieved. 

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