Derek Florence had it all figured out. The self-proclaimed sports nut was sure about what he wanted to do with his life.
“I grew up an avid sports fan,” Florence explained. “It didn't matter what sport, I enjoyed watching and playing them all. In elementary school I used to wake up to catch the early morning SportsCenter before my mom would make me turn it off to get on the bus and go to school. I loved sports and I knew I was going to be a professional basketball player all my life.”
“But that was before I stopped growing at 5'10" and discovered I had a mediocre jump shot. I figured if I couldn't play basketball for a living the next best thing would be to go into sports journalism and sports broadcasting.”
But the nurse gods had other ideas.
“My senior year of high school some family friends from church were raising money and planning on visiting an orphanage in Africa. It was an orphanage that existed to give abandoned children a home. I felt a really strong pull to go with them on this trip, so my spring break senior year I traveled with them to Nairobi, Kenya, to spend three weeks volunteering in this orphanage. The trip radically impacted my life and completely changed my worldview. Upon returning home I realized that I wanted to spend my time investing and taking care of sick and hurting people.”
Becoming a Nurse
So after talking with his parents and taking a few internships in different hospitals, he decided nursing was the route to take. He considered medical school, but saw that “nurses spend their time at the bedside and in the trenches and that's where I wanted to be.”
“It doesn't take long to see that nursing is a challenging field that's not always for the faint of heart,” Florence said. “It is at times a thankless job and it's exhausting, but as nurses you also have the greatest opportunity to impact patients’ lives. We are at the bedside countless hours a day. We don't just see the rollercoaster our patients are on, but we ride it with them. I didn't know at the time what being a nurse truly meant, but I'm thankful it's where I've ended up.”
So he changed his major from sports journalism to nursing and received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University in 2011 and began on his nursing quest to help change the world, one patient at a time.
“Getting me to talk to someone is not the hard part. It’s getting me to stop talking to them that’s the trick. I just want to know what makes you tick, what makes you you. I know I’ve only known someone for five seconds, but tell me your hopes and dreams. You know, I wanted to change the world and how better to do that than getting to have an impact on people’s lives? Especially when they’re in the hospital and it can be some of their hardest and their most difficult moments.”
“You know, as a nurse you’re not just a bedside nurse, you’re a counselor, you’re a confidante. Sometimes you’re the patient’s voice when they don’t have one. And so to get to connect with them and try to make the hospital the best experience you can for them is very important.”
A Travel Nurse
Recently, he has added another element to his nursing career.
“Over the last year I've explored a new avenue in nursing in deciding to become a travel nurse,” he said. “I've always loved traveling and have had an insatiable desire to do and see everything I can. Leaving a permanent position is tough, especially leaving the cardiac ICU and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where I’d worked previously. They are an incredible group of doctors, nurses and patient care assistants there, and it was a blessing to get to work with them for a few years.”
“But traveling has been a great experience. I have had the chance to meet some incredible nurses and work on some great units. I think traveling has helped make me a better nurse. I have been exposed to more nurses and more units and have been able to take little things with me every time I take on a new assignment.”
And the traveling has helped satisfy his thirst for not only travel, but for lack of a better term, charitable travel.
“The trip to Kenya really placed a desire in my heart to travel overseas and help people, whether it's building a house, filling a role as a nurse or holding babies in an orphanage,” he said. “Nursing has given me the opportunity to travel all over the world; Africa, Jamaica, Ecuador, Trinidad, Haiti, Bolivia, Mongolia.”
“After working as a nurse for two years I decided I wanted to take on a bigger role in Haiti and spend more than just a week or two overseas. I was working in the PICU at the university of Kentucky children's hospital at the time and decided to leave and go work for Mission of Hope Haiti (MOH). MOH was and is doing amazing things in Haiti. They are focused on changing the outcome from the ground up.”
“Not only do they fulfill medical needs, but also educational needs, food, clothing. Their biggest goal is to empower the nation of Haiti. They aren't there to ‘fix’ things or change the culture, but to empower the people of Haiti to grow as a nation. And being right in the middle of it all for a time was amazing and really helped to affirm in me that this is what I really always wanted to do.”
Having gained CCRN certification, Derek is a big proponent.
“I’m a big fan and a big proponent of certification. I don’t think necessarily that being a CCRN makes you inherently a better nurse. But I do think that you can learn so much through studying, through the process. And it’s very rewarding to have that. Having the CCRN after my name is nice because I know how hard I work. I know that I take this job home with me and I study and I try to learn and I want to know everything that I can. It’s rewarding to have that, so that way I can kind of reflect that to other people that I work with.”
“I believe it has made me a better nurse. And I’m a huge, huge proponent and want to encourage everyone to study for that and get their CCRN, whether it’s adult, peds, NICU, whatever.”
More Than a Nurse
Knowing the demands of his profession, though, Derek understands the need to “recharge” away from work. So what does he do for fun? A lot. First there are the triathlons.
“I broke my foot during college,” he explained. “At the time I was playing lacrosse and after breaking my foot I chose to just focus on school. I got into triathlons looking for something to do to get back into shape and have some way to compete. I've always enjoyed trying to find some way to push myself and there's a complete satisfaction in hitting a wall of physical exhaustion and finding a way to push through. I started out competing for fun, but have actually qualified for the amateur national championships every year since I started racing.”
“The thing I love about triathlons is that yes you are competing against other people and the field, but more so against yourself. You’re competing against the desire to quit, to sit on the couch instead of getting out and training. You are competing against your own personal records. There's such a satisfaction in crossing a finish line and hearing people you've never met cheering you on.”
If that weren’t enough, there’s the whole scuba diving thing. Yes, Derek’s taken that on, too. But not just half way.
“I just recently finished my master diver certification. To achieve a status of master diver you have to log so many dives and complete a certain number of certification courses. One of these courses is stress and rescue. It's like ACLS and PALS, but under the water. There are different levels of the stress and rescue certification. But it's a really fun course. You run through different scenarios of emergency management on the surface and then replicate some of these scenarios under water. My favorite thing we did was rescue patterns for searching for a lost diver.”
“Ultimately I would love to be able to live somewhere, to be able to volunteer with the coast guard or some organization to be able to take on a greater role as a stress and rescue diver. But so far all of my experience has been training exercises.”
“Diving had become a huge passion of mine over the last year. I really enjoy shark diving and wreck diving and have dabbled a little in underwater photography.”
“Maintaining a work/life balance is something I think is incredibly important. Nursing is hard; we are confronted with sick and hurting people and our own mortality on a daily basis. On my off days I love to bury myself in a good book or get outside to hike, bike, run or kayak. Recently I took up scuba diving and have become a master diver and rescue diver. Diving is my favorite way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the hospital or just unplug in general.”
Because why talk about the sports when you can actually do them – and make a difference in the world at the same time.