News, Nursing | 26 days ago

From the U.S. Navy to Atrium Health: A Nursing Journey

Atrium Health Hospital at Home’s Carolyn Lehman, is a third-generation nurse. It runs in her blood. But her nursing career started in a unique way: She joined the U.S. Navy where she became a Navy Nurse Corps officer and traveled across the country caring for our servicemembers.

In high school, when many people are still trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, Carolyn Lehman knew two things with absolute certainty: She wanted to be a nurse and she wanted to serve our country.

“After taking an anatomy and physiology course, I knew nursing would be for me,” she says. “I was always that kid who helped out if someone scraped their knee on the playground. I would run to check on them and help them to the school nurse. Even though I didn’t realize it, nursing ran in my blood from an early age.”

A third-generation nurse, Carolyn has spent the last decade working at Atrium Health and has been with Atrium Health Hospital at Home since it launched in 2020 as a revolutionary new care model to expand care options for patients with COVID-19.

“When Atrium Health Hospital at Home first started, it was all COVID-19 patients,” she says. “Not only were we all dealing with the new, unfamiliar virus, we were trying to figure out the best way to provide the best care to the patients with this program. It’s grown so much since then – and continues to evolve. Now we have expanded to a wide range of adult medical surgical patients and every day we are growing. We now have continuous monitoring systems for most of our patients too.”

While Carolyn’s grandmother and mother are also nurses, she says they didn’t push her into a nursing career. She found her way there on her own. But there was something else running through her veins that she just couldn’t ignore: a willingness to serve. Both her grandfathers served in World War II and she was inspired by their service and her own experiences growing up in New Jersey, just outside New York City.

“On September 11, I could hear the fighter jets flying over my house,” she recalls. “A friend got me interested in joining the Navy. I knew I wanted to help people, but not just be stuck in one place. The Navy would offer me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and travel, too. Plus, what could be better than to help the people who are willing to sacrifice everything for our freedom?”

Carolyn considered enlisting right out of high school, but that anatomy and physiology class was imprinted on her brain. She wanted to be a nurse. So, she went to nursing school. But it was there, during her senior year, that Carolyn found a way to combine the two things that she was most passionate about.

“I talked to a Navy recruiter at a job fair,” she says. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a Navy Nurse Corps officer.”

After graduating from nursing school, Carolyn began her military career as a Navy Nurse Corps officer. With stints across the country in places like Newport, Rhode Island, Portsmouth, Virginia, and Twentynine Palms, California, Carolyn had the chance to rotate through various nursing areas – a unique experience she realizes most nurses don’t get to have, especially fresh out of nursing school. These experiences altered the course of her life and her nursing career.

When Carolyn made the decision to leave active duty 10 years ago, she knew she still wanted to serve. The U.S. Navy Reserves offered her that opportunity, as did working at Atrium Health, which has been recognized on the Forbes list of Best Employers for Veterans two years in a row.

“The reserves offer me the opportunity to have unique nursing experiences that I wouldn’t have in the civilian world alone,” Carolyn explains. “It has given me a chance to travel the country to different military hospitals, continue with military training, stay in shape – and stay connected. Every time I have done my required reservist duty, I have bumped into someone I know from my active-duty time.”

Carolyn fulfills her reservist duties one weekend a month and two weeks a year, usually at a military hospital working as a bedside nurse, combat training or completing required training or a class. She also performs collateral duty from home, which includes things like teleconferences and training.

Her day job includes caring for patients via telephone and video visits, assessing their symptoms, vital signs and status, helping them review their medications and educating them on how to use them or explaining a diagnosis and treatment plan to patients and their families.

“I still find helping people and providing them comfort and support during their illness the most rewarding,” she says.

Through Atrium Health Hospital at Home, she also works with the medical equipment team, case management, social work, nutritionist, radiology, chaplain service and other services to ensure patient needs are being fully addressed. She is passionate about her work and the patients she cares for but acknowledges it can be challenging.

“I wish people realized how hard nursing is,” she says. “Regardless of what nursing role you have, it is still an emotional, physical, tasking job and I don’t think people appreciate all the hard work that nurses do every day for their patients.”

That’s why it’s so important for nurses like Carolyn, to take care of themselves too, whether reading, working out, cooking – or spending time with her husband and their three children. She advises new nurse graduates to find their footing with a solid nursing base – and keep an open mind.

“The beauty of nursing is there are so many areas to explore,” she says, “so if you don’t like one area or specialty, don’t be afraid to try something new.” 

Carolyn’s Advice for New Nurse Graduates

  • Get a solid nursing base.
  • Learn while working in a hospital on a busy unit.
  • Explore different areas or specialties.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new!