CCC alum finds calling in critical care


Coconino Community College graduate and Registered Nurse Chelsea Brumbaugh works for Northern Arizona Healthcare at Flagstaff Medical Center in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. For a video of Brumbaugh's experience, visit CCC's YouTube page here.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Chelsea Brumbaugh’s idea to become a nurse took form at 13 years old.

Chelsea’s mother went into a diabetic coma, and she studied how the nurses cared for her mother, and comforted Chelsea and her sister Ciara.

“After that, I knew I wanted to be a nurse,” Chelsea said.

Her dream came true in 2013, after she graduated from Coconino Community College with an associate’s degree in Nursing. She passed her state certification exams and was accepted to work for Northern Arizona Healthcare at Flagstaff Medical Center. She then went through the NAH Critical Care Training Program.

“I’m doing open hearts right now,” Chelsea said, adding that she works in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, or CVICU for short. “It’s cool how we actually know what the heart’s going to do after open-heart surgery.”


By the time Chelsea was in high school, she had begun working toward her goal. She enrolled as a student in Coconino Association for Vocations, Industry and Technology and began taking college courses at CCC to receive a certificate as a Certified Nursing Assistant, which she did before she even graduated from high school.

She immediately went to work in a doctor’s office in Flagstaff for practical experience, and began attending CCC for her associate’s degree in nursing. At CCC, Chelsea received several scholarships to aid her in her studies. Among the scholarships she received were the Raymond Educational Foundation Scholarship, the Hartzell High School Scholarship and the Jason Kurtz Nursing Scholarship.

“I got a lot of my prerequisites done before nursing school even started,” Chelsea said, adding that she was able to get a variety of clinical experiences in the community while at CCC.

“It was there I knew I wanted to do ICU of some sort,” Chelsea said. “It was a great experience.”

Her goal was to become a nurse with a two-year degree and work while she went back to school to get a bachelor’s of science in Nursing – a process she recommends to others for the cost savings and because it allowed her to get to work a lot earlier than students working on four-year degrees. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2016 while being a nurse at FMC the past three years.


Chelsea said that she works 12-hour shifts, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The first couple of hours for an open-heart patient after the surgeon closes up the chest and the patient is brought to the CVICU are the most critical.

“A lot can go wrong,” Chelsea said. “There are just so many things going on. You’re watching a whole bunch of stuff at once.”

CVICU nurses, who work on a one-nurse-to-one-patient ratio, watch patient IV “drips,” keep a close eye on blood-pressure and heart-rate monitors and make sure that vital signs stay in a certain range. The nurses are constantly checking on patients for signs of difficulty or distress. The process is intimidating at first, and some patients thrive after surgery while others require deeper care.

“It’s very stressful, but I enjoy it,” Chelsea said. “It’s so much fun seeing these patients walking the halls the next day, thanking you.”

Chelsea’s mother, who made it through the diabetic coma episode, works at Flagstaff Medical Center as well. Chelsea added that her sister, Ciara, also works at FMC as a nurse, and she is currently still in the training program.

Ciara graduated from CCC three years after her sister. While at CCC, Ciara also received scholarships to help her reach her goal. Among the scholarships Ciara received were the Raymond Educational Foundation Scholarship and the Blue Cross, Blue Shield Scholarship.

Chelsea said she and her sister have worked together before.

“We were waitresses before this,” she said and smiled.

For a video of Brumbaugh's experience, visit CCC's YouTube page here.


Monday, 19th September 2016

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  • Monday, 19th September 2016