Central Africa is a world away from Chapel Hill, but for Melinda Everett, it was a place that transformed her very being. Her years in the Peace Corps led her to discover a career full of compassion and understanding.
Her journey is inspirational, and it shaped her philosophy of care as a Certified Nurse Practitioner.
“We did not grow up with a lot of money,” she said. “I always wanted to travel and learn more about other cultures. So when I finished UNC-Chapel Hill with my biology degree, I applied for the Peace Corps. This provided me with a travel opportunity that I could not otherwise get.”
Because Melinda concentrated in ecology studies when she was in college, she believed that she would be assigned to a forestry program. After all, she spent a lot of time studying deforestation in the Sahel of West Africa.
But life had other plans.
“I was assigned to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in Central Africa. I was then trained as a medical volunteer.”
Half of all Peace Corps missions are in the health field.
From 1990 to 1991 she served as a rural health zone supervisor, sharing her position with a Zairian nurse. In her health zone, there were 90,000 people, one hospital, two doctors, and over 200 health clinics.
“Nurses ran EVERYTHING,” she said. “Those male and female nurses were amazing people. There were practically no resources, no medications available to them. The government hardly ever paid them. Yet they were leaders in their communities, and they used their knowledge to keep as many people alive and well as possible.”
“In most places, there were no gloves and certainly not IV fluids. Diarrhea killed many children under five. But they could make a sugar and salt solution using bottle caps to measure the ingredients and would use that to rehydrate and save many,” she continued.
“They used the knowledge of sterilization to teach lay midwives about boiling the knives used to cut umbilical cords. (Neonatal tetanus from dirty knives killed many infants.) The nurses hustled side jobs in order to make money to feed their own families –raising rabbits to sell was popular.”
From there, these seeds of inspiration took hold of Melinda’s heart and led her on another journey.
“I had so much respect and admiration for those nurses,” she said, “and I felt like I did not have nearly enough knowledge to help them. I was inspired to return to the U.S. and go to nursing school. While I originally thought about midwifery, I worked in gynecologic oncology during nursing school. That job pivoted my attention to the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner program.”
At graduation, she got a part-time job at Chapel Hill OB/GYN. This schedule allowed her to stay at home with her two small children. When her daughters went to school, Melinda transitioned into a full-time position.
“I felt so lucky. The doctors were so supportive of my interests. I wanted to learn more about menopause so they sent me to a conference and got me certified as a Menopause Practitioner. I began interested in pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction and they encouraged me again,” she said.
“The providers and staff at CHOBGYN feel like family,” she continued. “They encourage and support me like family. The office has been in business for so long that we get to see generations of women from the same family. It is always shocking to see young women who I met when they were still in utero!”
For Melinda, it is these connections that reinforce her decision to become a nurse.
“It is so nice to see that women keep their faith in us,” she said. “I am always so surprised about the women who travel long distances to see me or call me from abroad to ask me health questions. Their trust is overwhelming. There is a camaraderie here. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
It’s not surprising that nursing is a family affair for Melinda: Her maternal grandmother graduated from nursing school in 1929. After she graduated, she worked and put both of her sisters through college. One became a physical therapist and the other became a teacher who went on to become one of the first female Ph.D. graduates at the UVA School of Education; she then became a professor there, teaching children’s literature.
Her maternal grandmother sensed there was something special that life had in store for Melinda. She gave Melinda her nursing school ring when Melinda was still in high school.
“At that time, I did not understand this gift but my mother says that she always knew I would become a nurse. I wore her ring for so long that I almost wore the band out. It now sits in my jewelry box,” she said.
She continued, “Strong women like these and the nurses in Zaire inspire me. I am empowered by their stories and I hope that I use my job to empower other women. Teaching women about how their bodies work, giving them the tools to keep their bodies healthy and strong – this drives me.”
At Chapel Hill OBGYN, we are truly blessed to have incredible nurses like Melinda on our team.
Congratulations to Melinda for Winning the INDY Awards for Best Women’s Health Practitioner
Of course, we’re not surprised. Melinda’s dedication to caring extends to every patient.
We’re thrilled that she was recognized for her talent and compassion by being the first place winner in two categories for the INDY awards. These awards represent the best in the Chapel Hill, Durham and Triangle areas.
She earned the Best Women’s Health Practitioner for Durham County and the Best Women’s Health Practitioner in Orange and Chatham counties.
If you’d like to know more about her, you can check out her biography.
We’re always there for our patients, and we consider it an incredible privilege that we have served generations of women in the Chapel Hill, Durham and Triangle areas. Contact us for an appointment today.