It’s the time of year when many of us make resolutions. The following story, about the journey that Wheatland, WY, resident Rachael Settles took to become a nurse, offers inspiration on how to stay the course when “the going” gets tough.
In 2007 Rachael Settles’ five-year-old son, Jagger, was just starting kindergarten in their hometown of Wheatland.
Rachael had emphasized the importance of attending school, so it wasn’t too big of a surprise when Jagger asked if she was also going back to school “to become smart,” she said, grinning.
During the previous 10 years, Rachael had worked in banking and investments. But her son’s question reminded her of how much she had enjoyed learning when she was in high school.
Inspired by Jagger’s challenge and the encouragement of her best friend, Rachael enrolled at Laramie County Community College (LCCC) in Cheyenne in the fall of 2007.
A critical decision
Rachael initially planned to become a teacher. But her best friend, a long-time nurse, encouraged Rachael to consider nursing.
After a lot of deliberation, Rachael decided to take the prerequisite courses needed to apply for LCCC’s nursing program.
“Both fields require empathy and a desire to help others,” Rachael said of her decision. “But after discussing nursing with my friend, I knew it was the right way to go.”
Rachael continued to live and work in Wheatland, making the 140-mile round trip commute to Cheyenne until she graduated with her associate degree in nursing in May of 2011.
While she was in school, Rachael also worked nights at Platte County Memorial Hospital (PCMH) in Wheatland, first as a unit secretary and then as an EMT and emergency room technician.
“After my first call as an EMT, I decided I was going to be an emergency room nurse,” Rachael said. “It was the most amazing experience being there to help someone in a crisis situation. That sealed it for me.”
When Rachael graduated, she was hired to be a registered nurse at PCMH. She would continue to work at PCMH for the next three and a half years, in the medical-surgical unit and operating room and for case management.
“It was a great place to work. I learned a lot, and I made a lot of good friends,” Rachael said of her time at PCMH.
Another positive during her eight years at PCMH was the influence of the hospital’s chief executive officer.
“The CEO started in healthcare as a unit secretary. She made me believe that I could do anything if I was willing to set goals and work hard enough,” Rachael said.
The next step
The next step in Rachael’s journey was when she was hired to be a registered nurse in the Emergency Department (ED) at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center (CRMC) in March of 2015.
Rachael has since earned a master’s degree in nursing and has also been promoted. She now serves as one of two clinical managers in the ED.
“I am so grateful that CRMC gave me the chance to do what I love,” she said. “It’s been a great place to work and learn and to become an even better nurse.”
“Looking back now, I’m not sure how I did it,” Rachael said of her journey to become a nurse.
“When I started at LCCC, I was married with a daughter and son and was working full-time,” she said. “Going back to school, and having that long commute for so many years, it was pretty hard.”
After she was hired at CRMC, Rachael continued commuting to Cheyenne from Wheatland so her children could stay in familiar surroundings and finish school.
Rachael finally made the move to Cheyenne in the spring of 2019. It was the right time, as her son had just graduated from high school and was starting at the University of Wyoming (UW). Her daughter was also in a “good place,” she said, having graduated from UW in 2018.
“There are a lot of people who helped me get here,” Rachael shared. “There were the first nurses I worked with. They taught me a lot.”
She is also grateful to her best friend, Connie, for encouraging her to become a nurse, and to Landin Smith, a clinical manager in CRMC’s ED; Joshua Fillibrandt, CRMC’s care management director; and Sarah Whitman, a clinical manager in CRMC’s Mother/Baby unit. “Those three have been phenomenal mentors and friends,” she said.
“And I couldn’t have done this without my family,” she added. “They have supported and encouraged me this entire time.”
In the coming year, Rachael is focused on achieving a specialized certification in emergency nursing.
“There is always something new to learn in this field,” she said. “It’s important to keep on top of what’s changing so that our patients are receiving the most up-to-date and best care.”
Running is another passion that Rachael plans to continue.
Back in 2011 “a friend recommended it as a healthy way to lose weight and relieve stress,” she said.
Rachael wasn’t sold on running until she won a raffle and was able to buy a quality pair of running shoes. “That made all the difference,” she said.
Over the past eight years, Rachael has completed five marathons, 28 half-marathons and “a bunch of 5Ks and 10Ks,” she said. “My goal is to run a race in all 50 states.” As of last fall, she was halfway to her goal.
Another commitment Rachael has made is to give back to others, especially those with significant medical needs. Over the past two years, she’s been to Guatemala and Thailand on medical mission trips focused on helping those with little or no access to medical care. She hopes to be part of other mission trips in the future.
‘Just keep moving forward’
“You have to keep putting one foot in front of the other,” Rachael said of achieving a difficult goal. “Just keep moving forward. And be grateful for the blessings that come your way. Every day I try to take time to give thanks for something good that happened that day. You would be amazed at how your life can change if you do these things.”