Chris Long catches a halibut in Kachemak Bay. - Courtesy photo

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Chris Long at the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau in 2012. - Courtesy photo

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Chris Long grateful to find his niche in Homer

November 23rd, 2017 | Christina Whiting Print this article   Email this article  

For Chris Long, joy is putting on a pair of scrubs and working in an operating room, with nature and wilderness just beyond the hospital's front doors. A traveling nurse, he considers his strengths are his years of experience and his empathy.

"I've always tried to think of the person I'm working on as somebody's family member - wife, child, mother, grandfather - and treat them with dignity and respect," he said.

In 2008, Long secured a four-month contract as an operating nurse at South Peninsula Hospital. In January 2009, he flew from his home in Ohio to Homer, his first time in Alaska.

"I was told that Homer was the banana belt of Alaska, but when I got off the plane, it was minus 14 degrees," he said. "My first time walking on the beach, my eyes were the only things exposed and the salt water was freezing on the rocks."

He was also surprised by the lack of daylight hours and the volcanic eruption that happened two months later. But despite the cold and darkness, he fell in love with the natural beauty of the area, including the opportunities for fishing. His first time fishing Kachemak Bay, he caught a 120-pound halibut, a ling cod, a yellow eye and a king salmon.

"I've fished here a lot since then, but I've never again had a day like that," he said.

Long's nursing career was inspired by his mother's career in nursing. He studied at Saint Vincent's Medical Center School of Nursing in Toledo, Ohio, where he was one of five students from his class of 80 invited to work in the center's surgery department.

"We scrubbed alongside a scrub tech, standing there with them as they passed instruments to the surgeon, he said. "After we had some experience and were comfortable, we started doing it."

In 1993, he received his nursing degree and spent six months working in hospitals around Ohio; in the operating room, an intensive care unit, acute care and with home health. He was always drawn back to the operating room.

"The thing with being an OR nurse is that when people come to us, they have a specific problem; like we have to take out their gall bladder or fix broken bones and there are usually good outcomes involved," he said.

For 10 years, Long worked as a staff and scrub nurse, and assisted surgeons in operating rooms and hospitals around Ohio. When two of his friends were killed, he began questioning his life. When he met a traveling nurse, he was intrigued by the opportunity to travel and work in different settings, and less than a month later, he was on his way to Homer.

That May, his contract with South Peninsula Hospital ended and he returned to Ohio to work. He shared that the idea of the traveling lifestyle remained with him, and two years later, he sold his house, bought a truck and RV, and spent the next few years based out of Ohio. He also worked three to four months at a time in Hawaii, Kentucky, California, Texas, Florida and Juneau. In 2016, he returned to Homer.

"A lot of these places were really nice, but none had the same feeling as Homer," he said. "This place gets in your soul."

Back in Homer, Long's six-month contract with the hospital turned into two years. He was offered and accepted an interim managerial role earlier this year, during which time he hired new staff, purchased new equipment and helped to initiate the renovation of the two existing ORs and surgical suites.

"I wanted to do as much as I could to make the hospital and surgery department a better place for the community," he said.

When the new, permanent manager was hired, he returned to his role as assistant manager.

"I'm happy with the changes we have made so far and I'm looking forward to a long and rewarding career at SPH," he said.

Travel nurses are required to renew their certification every two years, and to maintain their vaccines, certifications, profile updates and testing. They work with travel nurse companies and typically, their travel, accommodations and transportation are paid for.

"Travel nursing challenges me and helps me to be a better nurse by my being adaptable and seeing how other places are doing things to keep up with standards," he said.

In the new year, Long will complete his current contract and is planning to spend time exploring Costa Rica, Nicaragua, as well as Alaska, before returning to Homer where he will begin working between June and November.

While Long's goals include continuing to divide his work between Homer and other states, he is eager to put down roots locally and is currently looking to buy a house. He shared that he is inspired by the generosity and kindness of the community, which he and his girlfriend experienced firsthand last year when they lost nearly everything in a fire.

"Everybody came together and helped out and it was a really good feeling to know that people here are like that," he said. "I see a lot of that in Homer and it makes me want to do the same for others. I'm thankful to be part of a wonderful community and to be able to help people through my work."


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