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Alumni profiles

Chelsea Terrell
Chelsea Terrell

A year into her career as an oncology nurse, Chelsea Terrell still draws from lessons she learned as a young WMS student that challenged her to find new ways of doing things.

“Montessori taught me to think creatively and out of the box,” she said. “Patients are not going to remember that you gave them their medications and got the right doses, but that you did it quickly so it allowed you to spend more time talking to them.”

That independent and creative thinking is what led Chelsea to pursue nursing - a decision she only made toward the end of her undergraduate program at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Chelsea landed a summer internship at a healthcare clinic in Bolivia before her senior year, which led her to realize she wanted to become a nurse. By the time she graduated from Mount Holyoke in 2016, she had already enrolled at Duke University’s nursing school and began her nursing program that fall.

“I learn best by seeing and doing and practicing - that’s why nursing is so good for me,” she said.

Based on her experience in Bolivia, Chelsea had in mind to pursue primary care nursing - she hoped to work in a clinic providing vaccinations and health education. But as she made her way through her student nursing rotations at Duke, she discovered she was drawn toward working with very sick patients, and gravitated toward oncology nursing.

After completing her nursing degree last spring, Chelsea took a job at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, knowing very little about the area.

“Going to a school that taught me independence at such a young age helped make me open to moving to West Virginia,” she said.

She thought she would stay six months or so before seeking work closer to her family home in New Jersey, but she began to connect with her role at Ruby Memorial more than she expected.

“I was starting to feel like I want to keep going,” she said.

And by “keep going,” Chelsea is referring to broader plans to earn a master’s degree in nursing and eventually working in healthcare policy.

“As nurses, we have front-line experience and unique perspectives that can enrich conversations about public policy,” she said. “I get to see the results of people’s lifestyles throughout their whole lives. I see people who have smoked their whole lives and now have lung cancer or [people who] lived in areas where environmental laws are not as strong as they should be and now have cancer.”

For now, Chelsea is content to continue making her rounds to her oncology patients, as she does in 12-hour shifts, three consecutive days a week. The days can be exhausting, but just as she regularly recalls Montessori lessons for guidance, she’s grateful for the years she ran cross-country in high school.

“I credit cross-country with teaching me endurance,” she said. “Knowing how to keep going after you’re tired is really useful, especially when you’re working a night shift.”

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