Casey Botelho, a nurse in the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center (PVAMC), runs a test on Army veteran Steven Williams.
As a young girl, Casey Botelho ’15 focused on two goals: contributing to an endeavor greater than herself and finding a career in which she could help others. Botelho, an Air Force Veteran and first-generation college student, still can’t believe she’s made both happen.
Through her deployment as a soldier in Afghanistan, Botelho was able to contribute to a larger cause. And she said she couldn’t possibly think of another occupation that allows her to assist others more than her current role as a medical/surgical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center (PVAMC).
“Working in the ICU is challenging, but I feel like I belong there because it’s fast-paced and I like working with others who enjoy that pace. No one patient is the same,” Botelho said.
She credits the Rhode Island College School of Nursing for sparking her interest in working in the ICU.
“While at RIC I did a rotation with cardio thoracic ICU and loved the different moving parts and the fact that everyone was working together as a team,” she said. “To see a person who just had open-heart surgery walk out of the ICU is an amazing feeling.”
Mary Ellen Bouley, Botelho’s supervisor at the PVAMC, showered praise on Botelho.
“Casey came to me as a new grad who was very sure of herself and she’s done excellent work,” Bouley said. “In fact, she’s mentoring other nurses now. She’s definitely a leader.”
Botelho’s leadership was noticed after she guided three nurses through the PVAMC’s Post-Baccalaureate Nurse Residency Program (PBNR). Earlier this year, Botelho was charged with guiding PBNR’s two-month ICU training.
“My biggest piece of advice was to encourage the nurses to be team players,” Botelho said. “When a patient is in severe distress, each member of the ICU team must ensure that the patient has the best outcome. I believe at the end of trainings I led, the nurses became more confident in their abilities to take care of critically ill patients.”
Botelho said her nursing career at the VA is a point of pride for her father, an Army veteran who often brags to friends about his daughter.
“He’s also proud that I decided to continue the family legacy of joining the military,’’ Botelho said.
After graduating from Seekonk High School in 2008, then 18-year-old Botelho joined the Air Force Reserves.
After six weeks of basic training in Texas, Botelho returned to Rhode Island and enrolled in classes at Rhode Island College in January 2009. She checked off nursing as an intended major on her college application.
“My love and passion to help people was the reason why I wanted to pursue going to nursing school,” Botelho said. “RIC is known for having one of the top nursing programs around so it was an honor to be accepted in the program.”
By the time she mastered the rhythm of college life, military orders arrived for Botelho to report to Afghanistan.
“It was scary to get that call,” she said.
Botelho became part of a unit responsible for providing dining facilities and loading trucks for missions by special force operations like the Navy Seals and Army Rangers. A few months later, she was appointed a supervisory position, ensuring that airmen enrolled in and completed professional military education courses, while deployed.
“Being a leader in that role was similar to nursing – making sure everyone has the tools they needed to succeed and the resources to seek out others when I couldn’t help,” she said.
After spending 10 months in a war zone, Botelho returned to Rhode Island College in 2011.
“I had to find my identity again because I felt like a new person when I returned,” she said. “People were asking me all these questions about what Afghanistan was like, and I was just trying to figure out my place in the world after being away for so long. I was fortunate to have a support system of people who believed in me.”
She leaned on that support system while transitioning back into college life at RIC, taking on challenging nursing courses that identified critical care issues among geriatric and pediatric populations.
“From the standardized testing to the clinical experiences to writing papers, I can’t pinpoint one specific area that was most challenging,” she said. “Nursing professors were helpful with setting up online study groups before exams and setting up extra time to meet if you didn’t understand certain concepts. Clinical professors were reassuring as well. I feel like they knew that nursing was a challenging program so they helped in whatever way they could.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2015, Botelho decided to apply for entry in the PVAMC’s PBNR. Tamara DeSousa, the former coordinator for the PBNR program, recalled Botelho’s interview, one of the requirements for entry, aside from submitting an application, transcripts and references.
“It was clear after the interview that Casey would be a great addition to the PBNR program because, as a Veteran herself, this opportunity would assist her in serving fellow Veterans,” DeSousa said. “At the conclusion of the PBNR program, Casey was hired to work in the ICU, after she made a great impression for being smart, an excellent team player and having a great attitude. It has been my pleasure to watch her grow as a confident, competent and compassionate nurse with special detail to Veteran-centric care.”
Botelho said she doesn’t anticipate working anywhere outside of a Veteran Administration medical facility.
“I have thought about going to work at other places, but the VA feels like home,” she said. “The population of patients is always thankful and grateful for everything we do for them. And with being a veteran myself, the VA has a special place in my heart.”