Sean Selby is big: 6’2” and about 300 pounds. And before he became a nurse, his size had a lot to do with the work he did: gun range staffer, security professional, and celebrity bodyguard.
But Selby—who just finished his first year in UVA’s RN to BSN program—feels far more in tune with caregiving and the mental muscle nursing requires.
“I’m a cerebral and logical thinker, and the body just makes sense to me: how it reacts and flows, and I click with the way the mind works,” he said. “That really was the draw, that and the fact that I like people and seeing them get better gives me purpose.”
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“They say, ‘Wow, you’re a big nurse. They’re used to smaller female nurses, and tinier people. It’s always fun to see people’s reactions.”Sean Selby, an RN to BSN student and former celebrity bodyguard
Selby’s nursing really began 5,000 miles away, in Honolulu, HI, where he was born and raised, the son and grandson of nurses. Unable to get into nursing programs on the West coast, he moved to Las Vegas, landing work as a bodyguard for everyone from Brittney Spears to Garth Brooks, Pittbull to J Lo. “It was fun,” Selby said, “but it wasn’t who I was, per se.”
When Selby moved to Northern Virginia to be near his mother and grandmother, they “reignited [his] passion for nursing.”
“I saw the way they impacted their patients’ lives, how it fulfilled them, and I was like, ‘Let me give it another shot,’” he said. He got into Northern Virginia Community College’s nursing program, shortly before COVID struck. His grandma, Anne Mabery—a nurse for more than 40 years—gave him some advice.
“How do you eat an elephant?” she’d say to him. “One bite at a time.”
By the time he graduated with an associate's degree in 2021, vaccines were widely available, and positions for nurses abundant. Still, his first clinical job was intense. “Your mind is in a million places: medications, vital signs, a whole bunch of things, including COVID, to be aware of,” he said. “Even when things are fresh in your mind, you still have to re-teach yourself.”
Now a cardiac nurse caring for patients recovering from open heart, vascular, lung transplant, and valve replacement surgeries, Selby knew he’d need a bachelor’s degree: the hospital where he works required it. A car trip to Charlottesville sealed the deal. He began the two-year part-time nursing program at UVA’s Northern Virginia campus in fall 2021.
“It’s been a struggle, on top of doing an orientation for a new job and career, taking statistics, and writing,” he said. “But it’s also very fulfilling when you do the work and get a sense of accomplishment and pride. I think my background and persistence has really helped push me through each semester. It is getting easier.”
What he’s learning in class is immediately relevant to his practice, which has whet his appetite to, down the line, become a nurse practitioner specializing in cardiology. “It really puts the why into what you’re doing,” he said.
Striding into patients’ rooms, he still gets plenty of comments. “They say, ‘Wow, you’re a big nurse,’” he laughed. “They’re used to smaller female nurses, and tinier people. It’s always fun to see people’s reactions.”