As a nursing student at Davis & Elkins College, Natalie Kniffen's studies have taken her to a wide array of environments in which she's practiced her vocation.
She's spent time in local hospitals, long-term care facilities and mental health centers -and has logged the required to 72 hours of independent experience with a registered nurse.
But before she encountered any of those environments, she knew nursing was for her when she performed it in a much more intimate setting as she was caring for her ailing mother, Patty Heckel.
"Both of my parents were registered nurses, so I grew up knowing it was a respectable career and something to be passionate about," Kniffen told The Inter-Mountain in a recent interview. "They both passed away at relatively young ages, and it was while I was taking care of my mother that I realized just how passionate I am about caring for people."
"I have the ability and drive to help people, and I knew I needed to make that my goal in life," she added.
Kniffen's mother, Heckel, was a labor and delivery nurse at Davis Memorial Hospital, while her father, Ben Portaro, practiced nursing at DMH for some time before ending his career in the infirmary unit of the Huttonsville Correctional Center.
Kniffen, who will graduate with an associate's degree in nursing on May 18, won't have to wait long to begin her vocation: she will start her career in the emergency department at Davis Memorial Hospital in June.
"I plan to focus on the fields of emergency and acute care nursing," Kniffen said.
"I enjoy the faster pace of that setting and that I can see the difference I am making when a patient is scared or in pain."
Kniffen, who will sit for the national nursing licensing exam soon after graduation, is a nontraditional student who started her journey a little later than most.
Now, she's glad didn't jump hastily.
"I can recall being younger and people being so sure of their future careers," she said.
"It took me a little longer than some to reach that level of confidence, but now I am sure that this is where I belong."