Army Veteran Returns to OR Roots After Earning BSN Online

Ebony Durham got her start in healthcare as a surgical technician in the U.S. Army. For more than a decade, she worked in hospital operating rooms around the globe until the wear-and-tear of military life became too much as the mother of a growing family.

“My plan was to go career and become a nurse in the Army but I was deploying back and forth. I have three children. I had the first two while I was active duty so I just made the decision that it was time to get out so I could pursue my nursing career — which I did in 2010,” she said.

Once out of the Army, Durham went back to school and graduated in 2012 with her associate degree in nursing. While most of her friends and family thought she would return to her OR roots, Durham ended up at a progressive care unit instead.

“To be a good nurse you have to have a good foundation, you have to be able to do all the basic things and working in the OR is so specialized,” she said. “I wanted to go work on the floor for a few years because I thought it made me a stronger nurse and helped me understand things better.” 

Back to School

After a few years, Durham decided she needed to go back to school for her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Durham said she looked at several other online options before choosing West Coast University after being impressed by how friendly and helpful everyone seemed. She also appreciated how familiar the admissions department was with GI Bill® funding. She even attended graduation after completing her online degree in 2017.

“It just felt like home. It felt like the right place to pursue the next step of my education and I don’t have any regrets,” she said. “Everyone I worked with at WCU, I could tell that they wanted me to succeed and be successful and go out there and do great things.”

Despite loving her choice of university, Durham said working full-time and being a full-time mom while going to school wasn’t always easy. Glued to a computer to finish back-to-back research papers or capstone projects, Durham found herself wondering some nights about her decision to get a bachelor’s degree.

“But I would always tell myself there is light at the end of the tunnel and just keep the train moving,” she said. “I just had to get comfortable, get with the flow and, once I did, I was great.”

New Role in the OR

After graduating with honors, Durham eventually did end up returning to her happy place — the operating room. Now armed with her BSN, Durham is proud of her role as a circulating nurse and loves how much she gets to interact with the surgery patients. In the Army, Durham’s connection with the patient was minimal. Now, Durham not only controls the flow of the operating room but acts as the patient’s primary advocate.

Prior to surgery, Durham interviews the patient to confirm details about the planned procedure and goes over the charts and final lab results with them. During the operation, Durham watches over the surgery team to make sure no one breaks sterility and is delivering the care required. Afterward, Durham stays at the patient’s bedside until they wake up from anesthesia.

“I’m trying to establish trust because it’s scary when you’re coming into surgery. I want them to know that we are here for them, I am going to be with them the entire time,” she said. “I’m there holding their hand, most of them, before they get ready to go to sleep. Sometimes I’m the last face they see and I always tell them, ‘When you wake up, you’ll see me. I’ll be here.’”

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.