Diverse Perspectives & Advocacy

Nurse Life Optimizer: Maddie Miller

Chelsea Rolfes, RN
April 10, 2018
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Madeline grew up in Cincinnati, OH and went to nursing school at Boston College. After college she moved to NYC and pursued oncology nursing at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where she fell in love with life as a nurse. She’s the youngest of 6 kids in a tight-knit family.

Working in Hematology/Oncology has quickly allowed Maddie to realize how short life is so she quit her job in October to backpack New Zealand, Australia and Southeast Asia. She’s lived in a camper-van named Lucy and has seen some pretty insane vistas and has finally settled here in SF right near us and we couldn’t be more excited! Maddie is a nurse, a traveler, and a life optimizer.

What influenced your decision to become a nurse?

My older sister is a nurse and I shadowed her in high school which definitely helped, but in all honesty, when I applied to college, I applied to 7 different schools with 7 different majors. They were all science related majors geared towards helping people, but at the end of the day, I think the big man above was looking out for me when I ultimately chose nursing.

What advice would you give someone considering nursing as a profession?

Be prepared to have the best career ever! But only do so if you want to work hard, never stop learning and challenging your brain, and best of all, help people. I think the most important thing to know in a potential career as a nurse is that you have to be okay with 12 hours of putting others first. While this is my favorite aspect of the job, it can be a challenge to look after and care for yourself too.
mission nurse in scrubs in front of desert trees

We’ve recently talked a lot about building a personal and professional brand as a nurse, what’s your take on this? How do you do this yourself?

Hmm, I think I am lucky in the sense that I do not view nursing as a career, but more of a lifestyle! When I show up to work, I don’t necessarily feel like it’s a job. It adds more fulfillment to my life then many other activities and I am continuously learning from patients in a physical way but also an emotional way. When I was 23, I had a patient look me in the eye and ask what his dying process was going to look like. Would he feel pain?

I was SHOCKED that at such a young age, I was to ease this person’s fears at the end of his life. He became the first of many oncology patients I have seen pass away. Being with someone at the end of his/her life teaches you things you can’t gain anywhere else. As difficult as it is, it is something that strives me to lead a purposeful life and brand myself as someone who feels thankful and blessed for every day.

What was your experience like volunteering in Haiti? Did you find it enhanced your attitude towards nursing?

It was challenging and fulfilling at the same time. We set up mobile clinics to villages that didn’t have access to healthcare. Families would walk up to five miles just to a get 3 month supply of blood pressure medication or treatment for a UTI. It was extremely humbling how much these patients looked to you for the answer to a medical problem they’ve had for months. It made me thankful that my profession is so universal!

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What gives you energy?

Being outside gets me out of bed and being able to walk to new places. I LOVE walking. Breathing in the crisp, fresh air, having tired feet after a long day, feel the relief of a bench, it's all so good. I’m thankful for my two feet!

What do you find most rewarding about being an Oncology nurse?

Honestly everything. I especially enjoy the long-lasting trust and relationships I am able to develop being a hem-onc nurse as the patients are in the hospital for 30-60 days. I think I am most amazed by how much strength oncology patients show when their life may have been normal yesterday, but today they’re facing a life-threatening diagnosis. On top of all of that, at the end of the day  you feel as though you are a part of your patient’s family because of how well you get to know each other and how much they trust you.

travel nurse

You recently traveled to New Zealand and Australia, did you miss nursing while you were away so long?

Honestly, not really! I knew it was a temporary and once in a lifetime opportunity to backpack for 4 months so I didn’t worry too much about missing something that would be in my future soon enough. Living in the present is the best anyways, right?

What do you think is the most difficult part of being a nurse?

When you feel like you can’t do enough for a patient. Or you feel like the patient wants to express a particular wish but doesn’t feel comfortable in front of the team.

Do you think it’s important to identify with other aspects of life in addition to “nurse” or “nursing?

Of course! I work to live, not live to work.

What do you wish the world knew about nursing?

How much we teach doctors

And how much patients teach us!!

What do you think is in store for the future of nursing? What about for your nursing career?

I am really interested to see how nursing develops. I think nurses are going to have more autonomy someday than they do now, but I’m not sure in what ways! I absolutely love the bedside, but I do have an itch to be a palliative care nurse practitioner, so that could be in the cards someday. But for now, travel travel travel!

oncology nurse
  • Healthiest habit for work days: Laughter! With patients, coworkers, and the docs!
  • Day-shifter, night-shifter or do you swing both ways? I can swing for sure, but I prefer days. I sleep days away after nightshift, though I do love the autonomy nightshift involves.
  • My work days usually start with… COFFEE, the largest size it can come in
  • Go-to mid-shift snack: dried mango or salty pretzels
  • Favorite thing to do on a day-off: walk anywhere and everywhere. explore! exercise in any form. Hiking now that I’m out here in SF.
  • Clogs or sneakers? I like to switch between the two if I am on for 3 days in a row, otherwise sneakers!
  • Favorite patient diagnosis: sepsis! I like how quickly a patient’s condition can change and how you have to adapt interventions according to new presentations
  • If I wasn’t a nurse, I would probably be.. national geographic photographer or a go-pro sponsored bad-ass!
  • Favorite world destination: New Zealand!!! but anywhere w/ mountains will do, they just get me!
  • Compression stockings, compression socks, or neither? compression socks!
  • Puke, poop, sputum, IV starts in babies, we’ve all got our aversion, what’s yours? Ugh, I hate when skin is flaking off. It has a smell to it and its everywhere!
  • Go-to choice of caffeine? Coffee! The lighter the roast, the more caffeine.
Chelsea Rolfes, RN

Chelsea, an Ohio native, is a Medical-Surgical nurse who began her nursing career in Chicago and soon after became a travel nurse. Chelsea’s zest for life and adventure has brought her to Seattle, Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, and Austin. She has developed a true passion for health and wellness and aims to be an inspiration for those around her. She uses her Instagram account, @healthy_withchelsea, as a platform to showcase her recipes, food photography, and her active, healthy lifestyle from city to city. She can’t wait to see where her enthusiasm for living a happy, healthy life will take her in the future!

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