Chelsea-Sopongwa

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BGSU’s RN to BSN program fits into the hectic schedule of a travel nurse

Travel nurse Chelsea Sopongwa: “A BSN from BGSU can offer a wide range of new opportunities”

By Bob Cunningham ’18

Travel nurses are in high demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Filling in gaps has always been one of the main goals for travel nurses, whether that’s filling in for vacations or shortages of staff. And, often times, it can lead to working in glamorous locations such as Hawaii, California and Florida.

Travel nurses are also needed when natural disasters strike or during a disease outbreak such as the coronavirus.

The median range salary for a registered nurse is $73,300, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Under normal circumstances, travel nurses typically make about $1,700 a week during assignments that range from 8-13 weeks but because of COVID they can make upwards as three times as much in health care facilities across the United States.

Chelsea Sopongwa is a travel nurse in Bowling Green State University’s RN to BSN program. She is originally from Maryland but currently resides in northeast Ohio.

A registered nurse for two years, Sopongwa became a travel nurse because she wanted to expand her knowledge and diversity in the nursing field.

“Working in different hospitals, different units and in different environments has really broadened my knowledge as a nurse,” said Sopongwa, who was drawn to nursing because she was surrounded by several health care professionals in her family including her mother who is very devoted to being a nurse. “It also taught me how to quickly adapt to new situations and have to care for patients in various critical situations.

“As travel nurses, we are expected to adapt very quickly to new environments. Staff nurses typically have a 6-10 week orientation where they shadow and work with nurses who work at the hospital and the nurse is trained on the hospital’s policies. Travel nurses typically have a 2-3 day orientation, then are expected to be able to work independently.”

Sopongwa has had many different experiences as a travel nurse.

“I have worked in a hospital where I’ve floated on several units and taken care of several patient populations,” she said. “I have also worked in a rural hospital, where I learned so much about their local norms, practices and created a bond with people who live in a very different environment than where I live.”

Sopongwa has worked at hospitals with staff shortages because of COVID-19, and found the experience to be rewarding in many ways.

“Due to short staffing, we had high patient ratios but the way the staff appreciated us helping with staffing was the best part,” she said. “They were so grateful that we chose to come to their rural hospital. It is difficult on all parts of staffing when staff is sick or need to be quarantined due to exposure. Whether it’s the nurse, the secretary, the aides or even the janitors, each person in the health care team is important. When one person is unable to be at work, it affects everyone.

“During this pandemic, I’ve learned that I really do love what I do. I love being able to hold a critically ill patient’s hand and comfort them when they can’t have a family member with them.”

Sopongwa’s biggest reward as a travel nurse is knowing that she has a positive effect on people’s lives wherever she goes.

“In the previous hospital where I worked, the manager told me that patients mentioned my name and noted how pleased they were with their care when the hospital called and asked how their hospital stay was post-discharge,” she said. “I have also had patients who remembered my name and sent their regards through others.”

Her biggest challenge has been being away from her toddler son and husband while traveling.

“He was 5 months old when I started traveling,” she said. “My husband is a pharmacist, so we’ve both been on the front line during this pandemic. It’s been quite a challenge, but I am grateful to be doing my part.”

One of the best things about BGSU’s RN to BSN program is its flexibility, which fits into the hectic schedule of a travel nurse — even during a pandemic. The program, which started in Fall 2019, is 100% online through BGSU's nationally ranked eCampus.

“We offer four various pathways which accommodate both the personal and professional individual needs of each of our students,” said Dr. Lara Wilken, coordinator of the RN to BSN program. “Having these various pathways allows us to be flexible to our students’ needs should a scheduling conflict or personal issue arise. In addition to this, we have the most knowledgeable, caring and compassionate faculty and staff. Each of us being registered nurses and having taken online courses understand each of our students’ situations.

“We care for our students as though they were our patients. This pandemic has only brought us closer to each one of them and we go above and beyond to make sure we are able to accommodate their academic needs. Traveling or not, each one of our students hears from their professors at least once a week and they always know we are only a phone call or email away.”

“The RN to BSN program has helped me as a travel nurse, especially in understanding various leadership styles and approaches that I meet in different hospitals,” Sopongwa said. “I have also learned the importance of research and evidence-based practice in my nursing practice.”

She wanted to get her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to further advance her career in health care.

“A BSN from BGSU can offer a wide range of new opportunities and also allows me to further my education in health care,” Sopongwa said. “I chose BGSU because as soon as I inquired about the RN to BSN program, the staff and advisors were so kind and helpful and wanted to help me succeed as a student. This is still true today, as I am more than halfway through my program.”

She was attracted to BGSU’s RN to BSN program because it was in Ohio and the advisors and educators were very supportive from the first day she inquired about the program.

“They answered all of my questions and were very supportive in helping me plan out my courses and checked in on me from time to time. Their kindness and support forever means so much to me.”

Sopongwa is happy she chose BGSU, especially because the guidance that Wilken has provided.

“My advisor, Lara Wilken, has been an amazing support system,” Sopongwa said. “She is really devoted to supporting her students to succeed in this program. When the pandemic hit, and I began travel nursing, I had to postpone one of my courses. Lara was very helpful in quickly responding to me and finding the best way for me to achieve a work, school and life balance.

“My instructors have also been amazing. During the pandemic, they have all reached out and explained that they knew how much stress we were under as frontline workers and were going to be support us in every way they could. This has meant so much to me.”

Media Contact | Michael Bratton | mbratto@bgsu.edu | 419-372-6349