Master’s student goes from patient to nurse in a newfound career path

Master’s student goes from patient to nurse in a newfound career path

A life-changing illness, and the nurses who helped him recover, inspired one man to become a nurse himself

Seth Burkhead

Seth Burk, an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner student, had an immense passion for helping people from a young age. After being faced with a life-changing illness at 18 he was inspired to become a nurse to create change, impact the lives of patients and their loved ones, and be a trustworthy professional in the community. 

“My drive to influence those in their most vulnerable state dates back about 10 years ago when I was a patient experiencing a life changing illness that altered the trajectory of my life at 18. I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome and paralyzed from the waist down,” Burk said. 

While Burk has since recovered and is able to walk again, his experience as a patient created a burning desire to be a source of compassion for patients experiencing critical illness. “When I was sick, my nurses were there with me every new step. They created a safe environment. They smiled and did not emphasize ‘can’t,’ but rather encouraged the steps it would take to move forward,” he remembered. 

Burk said he feels that nurses are with people in their most vulnerable moments, from a minor sniffle to taking one’s last breath. “As nurses we examine every bit of the human experience. Seeing the triumph of the human spirit, seeing the challenges and tribulations, and ultimately, being the eyes, ears, and voice of compassion to those who experience our care,” Burk said. “I felt a calling to nursing and I became a nurse because I wanted to influence the lives of others through a position of compassion.” 

The Duke University School of Nursing was Burk’s first choice because of its enriched culture of excellence, love for the nursing profession, and leadership that encourages, promotes, and believes in its students. “The support and efforts of the people that make the school run is world class. They greet you as an equal and you go through the program as an equal,” Burk said.  

He added that the School of Nursing never makes students feel like outsiders even when they are in a hybrid-learning scenario, and that it prepares nurses to be master clinicians in caring for human beings. “Duke identifies student potential and helps students flourish in any avenue with no stone left unturned,” Burk said. 

As a hybrid student who has completed education both virtually and in-person, Burk notes it has been a world-class experience that he truly believes he could not have received anywhere else than Duke. His passion for complex physiology, case presentations, and providing care to those experiencing critical illness whether it be the patient or their loved ones, led him to the AGACNP program. 

Burk said the School of Nursing’s connection to the newest evidence, the changing landscape of healthcare, and to the evolving learner is unmatched. “Duke has prepared me to hold myself accountable to the highest standards of practice. To constantly strive to learn more, to be better for my patients, and to want to affect positive change to practice.” 

“Duke,” Burk said, “has challenged me to become the best version of myself in order for my patients to receive optimum care and made me determined to be a leader in the ever-changing healthcare landscape.” 

Burk is set to graduate with his MSN this week, and he is proud to announce that he has accepted a job with the Cardiac Surgery Team at his home hospital – Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania. “This is my dream job and, in this role, I will be first-assisting the surgeon in any and all cardiac surgeries from valve replacements to coronary bypass to Left Ventricular Assist Device placement.” 

Additional duties consist of performing endoscopic vein harvesting to retrieve conduit for coronary artery bypass and caring for the patients post-operatively in the Intensive Care Unit from admission to discharge. Burk will also continue his education at the School of Nursing earning his DNP in Spring 2026. 

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