‘I Feel Like I'm Making a Difference Here’

Portrait of Sandra Belton, RN, MSN standing in the hallways of UVM Medical Center.

Sandra Belton, RN, MSN, spent nearly 20 years working as a nurse in her native South Carolina. Then, after working for a couple of years as a travel nurse, first in Southeast and then in Vermont, she decided to join the neurology team full time at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. She explains why she decided to stay (hint: it wasn’t the winter weather), what it’s been like to adjust to life in a new region and which local restaurant reminds her a bit of home.

Q: Did you come straight from South Carolina to Vermont?

A: In 2018 I decided to try the world of travel nursing. I did psychiatric travel nursing for the majority of my time, and I worked in places like Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and Louisiana, to name a few. I then took a travel-nurse position at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.

Q: How did you get from Dartmouth-Hitchcock to UVM Medical Center?

A: At Dartmouth Hitchcock, I met and became friends with a traveler from Ohio. She received a traveler job offer from UVM Medical Center and planned to transfer there. She wanted me to join her, but I said, “No, I'm going back to South Carolina. I don’t want to be in the snow, I’m not a cold weather girl.”

Q: What changed your mind?

A: My friend convinced me to stay. I had already accepted a position in South Carolina to work at a cardiology clinic, but after doing my research about UVM Medical Center and the Burlington area, and much prayer, I decided to mention the opportunity to my family. They were all so very supportive, even though they had been excited for me to come home.

The person I really needed a blessing from was my dad because I’ve always been a daddy’s girl. When I spoke with him, he encouraged me to take the job and said that I would only be a plane ride away. He also told me how proud he was of me for how far I had come in my nursing career. He had prayed for me when I was a little girl that I would grow up to have better opportunities than he had. He’s 81 years old, and he has seen and been through a lot. That was all the affirmation I needed.

In December 2020 I joined the neurology team at UVM Medical Center as a travel nurse. I fell in love with the staff and the doctors here. A few months later, UVM Medical Center offered me a permanent job and, despite the cold weather, I accepted.

Q: How have you found it so far?

A: This has been a good transition for both my husband and me. I have really enjoyed my time here in New England. Until I came up here as a traveler, I had never been this far from my home or this far north. I think the farthest I had been was to visit New York City. I’ve realized that I do like to experience all four seasons and get a true feel of what they’re like. Even though I'm not a big winter-girl, I can adjust for a few months each year.

Q: Has anything about your work at UVM Medical Center stood out to you as special or particularly important?

I feel like I'm making a difference here, and that is important to me. Even though I'm a telephone triage nurse, and I don’t provide direct patient care, I’m able to establish a rapport with our patients. One man told me earlier today, “Sandra, I'm so thankful for you because I put my trust in you and the doctor. I feel like you are really invested in taking care of my needs.” That means a lot.

Our patients mean a lot to me, but this team of nurses and physicians is what drew me to this position. They welcomed me so graciously. If I need something, they respond to it. If they need me to do something, they trust me to do it. One of my doctors has already written to my supervisor to say how grateful he is to have me on the team.

And all my doctors, they say, “Oh no, call me by my first name.” I'm not used to that, but it makes a difference, you know, that they are allowing us to do that. And they're so approachable. Especially working in a specialty area, it’s common for physicians to have a demeanor like “I’m up here and you're down there.” But at UVM Medical Center, I'm on equal ground.

Q: Would you recommend working for the UVM Health Network?

A: Yes! I have already recruited three nurses who have joined me on the neurology team! One came from Charleston, South Carolina, where I’m from. And the other two I met when I was a traveler. They joined us from Savannah, Georgia, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Q: Is there anything about the transition you’ve found difficult, other than the winter weather?

A: The diversity is very minimal. But at least I can say there’s more diversity here than in New Hampshire, where there were very few African-Americans. I came to Burlington and felt a little bit more comfortable. I still know that I am in the minority, but it seems like the population is growing a little bit more and becoming more diverse.

It’s also been an adjustment as far as food goes. I haven’t really found a good seafood restaurant yet. I do really like a restaurant named Chicken Charlie’s because they have ribs and fried chicken. It reminds me of home.

Q: Have you done anything in Vermont that you feel is quintessentially New England?

A: My husband and I love restaurant hopping. We went on the Spirit of Ethan Allen cruise on Lake Champlain this fall. That was nice. I've been to Maine and Massachusetts. I actually went to a Renaissance fair in Massachusetts about a month ago – that was interesting!

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