Growing up, Reeger Cortell, now a family nurse practitioner, never imagined herself becoming a nurse. "When I graduated from high school, I went to college for a bachelor of fine arts degree," she said. "My sister had taken this path, and since I didn't really know what I wanted to do but had a natural inclination for art, I followed in her footsteps." After school, Reeger worked seasonal jobs in the tourism industry. While flying over the Grand Canyon to a seasonal job, something clicked. "I have never had anything like this happen to me, and haven't since, but I experienced something that one might call an 'inner voice' telling me that I should become a nurse. I had felt for some time that my life didn't have a clear purpose and that I wasn't contributing to the greater good."
Reeger began talking with some of her friends who were health professionals. She wasn't sure she had the aptitude to excel in a nursing program, but her friends' stories of personal fulfillment and career stability encouraged her to take the leap. She enrolled in nursing school at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Her BFA gave her little to no transfer credits, but she still managed to graduate in four years, and second in her class.
Reeger spent five years working on an inpatient oncology unit. She loved the work, but found herself feeling restless. When a wound care ostomy nursing position opened up, she took it. While her level of responsibility was greater, she still did not have the authority and autonomy she wanted, so she enrolled in a master's of nursing program, with the goal of becoming a wound care nurse practitioner. Because she was married and had two young children, she chose a distance learning program, which gave her the flexibility she needed. While in school, she was approached about joining a surgical practice that was branching out into weight loss surgery. She hadn't considered that specialty before, but it sounded like a good opportunity and a great fit for her personality, so she changed the focus of her nursing path. She graduated at the top of her class and joined the weight loss surgical group in 2007.
"I am drawn to people in transformation, and love walking with someone on a journey to living a healthier life," she said. "I love to hear a patient say, 'I wish I had done this 10 years ago.'" Reeger says that before weight loss surgery, daily life is often a "physical and mental chore" for someone whose health is complicated by his or her weight. "What we do in this profession is essentially put our hands in the leaky dam of these patients' health; when we remove our hands, their diseases are in remission, and they can start living the kind of lives that they want to live."
Reeger's need for fulfillment converged with inspiration to become a nurse in the strangest of places. It was a turning point in her life, and a moment she'll never forget. Her role as a nurse practitioner has given her great flexibility to take her career in many directions. She enjoys being able to write orders, participate in her patients' care, and above all, change lives for the better.
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