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Omaha Magazine

A Natural Nurse: Steve Stang's Outdoor Adventures in Medicine

Dec 28, 2020 08:39AM ● By Janet Tilden
Steve Stang and his walking stick

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nebraskan Steve Stang wanted to see other parts of the country. He served three years with the Signal Corps in the Army Reserves in Georgia after graduating high school in the mid-1980s, and the experience opened his eyes to other places. 

Like many, however, he settled down after returning to Omaha. He enrolled in nursing school and found a job soon after graduating.

“When I graduated in 1989, I knew I wanted to be in critical care,” Stang said. “I spent 13 years working nights and weekends in the ICU at Clarkson Hospital, then transferred to the cardiac catheterization lab, where I could work day shifts and still be in critical care. Three-and-a-half years later, I switched to electrophysiology. I’ve been specializing in EP for 16 years.”

He retained his love of travel, going places when his schedule allowed, such as annual trips to the Rocky Mountains (usually in Colorado) for his birthday. In 2019, he switched careers to one that would allow him to pursue his dual passions of travel and nursing. He became a traveler, a medical professional who accepts temporary assignments.

His niece, Allison Wissman, was his recruiter at RTG Medical in Omaha, and she knew that Stang would be an excellent traveler.

“I was confident that he was not going to back out if something was not exactly what he expected,” Wissman recalled. “He’s mature and adaptable, with a ‘make it work’ mindset. Those are key aspects of a successful traveler.”

Stang’s first assignment was at Emory University Midtown Hospital in Atlanta in December 2019. While there, Stang asked his coworkers to point him toward the nearest mountains so he could go hiking. He went to an REI store for hiking boots, and a new friend gave him a hiking stick.

Age and the rigors of his job had taken their toll on his body. He described himself as “pretty heavy,” and the first few hikes he took in Georgia were only 2-3 miles. He was motivated to keep hiking by his love of mountains and his passion for nature. 

On his days off, Stang hiked up and down Stone Mountain and Kennesaw Mountain. “We went all over the place. I took my camera with me and started shooting pictures of the mountains and the flowers and the trees,” Stang said. 

A former coworker also recommended a weight-loss program called Optavia, which pairs customers of the program with a coach to help keep them on track and focuses on changing unhealthy habits. 

“I thought this would be a good opportunity to take control of what I was eating because I could do my own thing,” Stang recalled.

Stang’s first assignment in Atlanta ended on March 14. He was planning to take a week off in Omaha and then return to Atlanta for a 10-week assignment. Then, COVID-19 broke out, and the lab in Atlanta stopped doing elective procedures for a few weeks. 

“My one-week furlough at home ended up being a four-week furlough,” Stang said. He remained active in Omaha, working out at his friend’s martial arts studio, pursuing his woodworking hobby in his garage workshop, and spending time with family. 

When he returned to Atlanta, he went right back to work. “They still weren’t up to full capacity, so I had to supplement my shifts,” Stang said. “I worked in the COVID ICU for two weeks, then went back to the EP lab for the rest of my assignment.”

When he wasn’t in the hospital, he was in the mountains, experiencing new natural wonders. “I always went hiking on my days off,” he said. “It was springtime and much prettier than it had been in the winter when the trees were bare.”

By June 2020 he was hiking seven to 10 miles a day.

Stang returned to Omaha in June to relax and spend time with friends and family. His daughter is 23 and works as a vet tech, and his son is 21 and handles the house and yard while his dad is traveling. Stang was all set to go to his next assignment in Tacoma, Washington, in August 2020 when he received a call from Atlanta with some sad news. The new friend who had given him the hiking stick had passed away suddenly at age 47.  He returned to Atlanta for the memorial service, putting off his next adventure.

Stang chose Tacoma because a friend lives nearby, and he arrived in September 2020. He enjoyed exploring the area for a few days, but then the wildfires made the air quality too hazardous for outdoor exercise. 

“For almost two weeks I had to stay indoors, and it smelled like a campfire every time I went outside,” Stang said. “Not exactly what I had envisioned for my adventure. Then we had a big rainstorm and the air quality was healthy again, so I spent some time exploring Pike Place Market in Seattle.”

He eventually got back to hiking, and by early November had hiked four different mountains in the area. Between the diet program and the hiking, Stang has lost 118 pounds. He’s healthier, and he’s happy in his new role as a traveler.

“At this point in my life I want to experience as much as I can. I’ve always believed that travel can enrich your life in ways that nothing else can,” Stang surmised. 

“I’m very happy for him,” said Wissman. “I’m proud of him, and I’m excited to see where traveling takes him, personally and professionally.” 

Visit rtgmedical.com for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2021 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.