ADVENTURES IN ALTRUISM
BILLINGS, Montana — Jill Wellman probably isn’t going to make it back for her 10-year class reunion at Spring Valley High School.
It’s not rare to catch a case of wanderlust in your 20s. The world seems to grow ever larger as each new door opens in the blossoming life of young adulthood — matched only by the overwhelming urge to see just how big it really is.
But it’s easy to simply see the world — to present yourself merely as a traveler passing through — and even easier to feel drawn to the other world zinesly glamor of places featured in maga and Pinterest boards.
It takes more than a free spirit to truly leave a piece of yourself wherever in the world you wind up. At 28, Wellman has scattered bits of herself across the globe — visible in the faces of the countless individuals she’s tended to as a travel nurse.
“I’ve been pushed further and further outside of my comfort zone, and there’s been so much grace and growth in that,” said Wellman, speaking from her current post in Billings, Montana. “I’m less afraid now than I was when I started, ironically, because I’ve seen so many things that have made me weep or shocked me.”
Born and raised in Huntington, Wellman graduated from Spring Valley High School in 2008 and enrolled at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, West Virginia, where she played soccer for two years.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2012, Wellman traveled to Morgantown for post-graduate training at West Virginia University Medicine’s Ruby Memorial Hospital. Aside from her clinicals in the operating room, Wellman was able to bounce between nursing specialties at the Level-1 trauma center, which later proved to be valuable all-around training for a life as a travel nurse.
“It just felt normal to get into that profession,” Wellman said. “I was restless to get into something, get trained and get out.”
That unsettled spirit drew her first to Mercy Ships, an international, non-governmental agency that docks fully equipped, fully staffed hospital ships in developing nations across the world, providing free health care to the local populations.
But in 2015, as she was accepted and ready to head overseas, a recently made friend from church mentioned she, too, was involved in traveling nursing. Her assignment was in Tacoma, Washington, and she invited Wellman to join her.
Naturally, she packed up and drove cross-country to live with a near-stranger — sparking a career
in travel nursing that would click miles off her car’s odometer by the hundreds.
“I thought I was crazy,” Well-man said. “I was leaving something pretty good for something completely unknown, but it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life, so I have no regrets.”
Travel nurses are assigned to hospitals based on staff shortages — mostly on temporary assignments less than a year.
Little about it was easy at first. Aside from the distance and the different culture, a steep learning curve arose at the Washington hospital — many of the procedures they performed weren’t necessarily ones she knew right away.
But she developed with every new step she took, and within six months Wellman was transferred from Washington to New Mexico. After three months, she bounced back to the East Coast for a seven-month stint in Fairfax, Virginia.
In October 2016, Wellman finally joined Mercy Ships, settling sail for Benin — a small nation on the West African coast. Neither the overseas mission work she completed in college, nor her professional training stateside, prepared her for the experience — simple ailments turned life-threatening for lack of care, and tumors swollen to unbelievable size.
The idea behind Mercy Ships, she explained, is that the majority of most African countries’ populations live within 100 miles of the coastline, and that docking a hospital ship ashore provides immediate and free care for around nine months at a time in a certain location.
“Mercy Ships is what a hospital would be like if nobody (medical staff) worked because of money or social pressure,” Wellman said. “It is holistic medicine at its purest, and it’s beautiful.”
Mercy Ships is staffed by volunteer medical professionals from around the world — the only requirement that they speak English. Somehow, it all works perfectly, she continued.
“The volunteers that come just have the purest mindset: that they’re here for the patient,” Wellman said. “So much of healthcare has been centered on the bottom line, but at Mercy Ships it’s all about helping the patient. There’s no bureaucracy, no Medicare, no insurance. Just show up.”
Wellman returned to Fairfax, Virginia, in November 2016, where she stayed for another four months before shipping back to the West Coast for a nine-month stint in Oregon. She moved again to her current assignment in Billings, Montana in late May.
While wanderlust has driven her, literally, across the country, Wellman credits her faith for providing the inner solace to step out of her comfort zone time and again.
“The basis of true faith is to meet people where they are, and that’s rarely comfortable,” Wellman said. “There are so many things that people would call coincidence that I would call the grace of God in my life.”
But when the sun sets wherever she rests her head that month, Huntington is ultimately where her roots are buried, and coming home is always a topic of her own self-discussion. It’s become a balancing act, as she put it, deciding between the pull of seeing more of the world or seeing more of her corner of it.
“Every assignment brings that question, ‘When is it time to go home?’” Wellman said. “There’s no solid answer yet, but I guess I’ll just keep going until I figure it out.”
Wellman is the only daughter of Alan and Kathy Wellman of Huntington. She has two older brothers, Jeremy and Joey, and a twin brother, Jameson.
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter at @BIshopNash.