RN to BSN graduate Chase Smith, an ER and travel nurse, standing on the MUSC helipad.
Chase Smith (BSN `20) has repeatedly transformed himself. His latest metamorphosis? Travel nurse.

Chase Smith (BSN `20) doesn't do galley kitchens, hotplates, or TV dinners.

The emergency nurse needs plenty of space and tools to make go-to meals, like buffalo chicken and cauliflower casserole, pork tenderloin, and shrimp Alfredo after working a 12-hour shift in the emergency room. 

So finding an apartment for three months near his new job as a travel nurse in Charleston, S.C., took some doing, given many apartments’ rather perfunctory amenities. But once he found one, Smith, of Stuart’s Draft, Va.—who signed on with Aya Healthcare, the largest travel nurse agency in North America this January—said goodbye to friends and family, and hit the road, throwing his running shoes, clothes, favorite chef’s knife, and air fryer in the backseat of his GMC Terrain.

“I’ve lived in Virginia all my life,” said Smith, “and hardly done any travel outside of it, and that was my interest: to see more of the world. COVID might have made me hesitate in the beginning, but then I also figured I wasn’t tied down. I don’t have kids, I’m not married. I was like, ‘Well, maybe it’s the perfect time.’”

It isn’t the first time Smith’s taken a transformative leap. In early 2019, after a friendly bet with a coworker, he began a diet and exercise regimen that has, in the last two years, cut his body weight in half. In addition to being a nurse, he’s now a health coach, too. His Instagram handle—@changing_chase—says it all.

“Growing up, I’d always been the heavy kid, the heavy teen, the heavy adult—my entire life,” said Smith, who once weighed almost 400 pounds. “I’m not proud of the size I was, but my whole transformation allows me to connect more with others. I want to remember where I came from. It helps me meet my patients where they are.”

The weight loss emboldened him to try travel nursing, an increasingly popular and lucrative profession for experienced clinicians that, since 2018, and especially since the pandemic, has grown more than 60%. Being heavy meant there were “a lot of restrictions involved in my life, and now,” said Smith, “I feel like I can do whatever I want.”

His new job is both familiar and fun, even if he sometimes struggles to find supplies or catch up on procedures and protocol. He’s also found a gym, a grocery store, places to jog, new friends—and a chance to see some of the world outside Virginia, even if it’s during a pandemic.

“To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for the weight loss,” said Smith, who hydrates with a gallon-sized water bottle, to the amusement of his ER coworkers. “With it has come some confidence, and the ability to feel more confident makes me feel more competent as well.”