Rx for Success Series, Nurse Practitioner Elana Scharff

Rx for Success: Elana Scharff, NP, Shares Her Exciting Career Journey to Nurse Practitioner

Introducing Vivian Health’s Rx for Success: Stories of Renewed Passion in Healthcare series. Each week, we profile a healthcare provider from our platform, sharing their inspiring career journey and critical moments that rekindled their passion for healthcare.

In the first installment of our Rx for Success series, Vivian Health spoke to nurse practitioner (NP) Elana Scharff via video chat against a backdrop of the crisp blue sky and adobe buildings of Sedona, Arizona.

“Look, I’m at a cardiology conference!” she exclaimed. “I’m a general surgery nurse practitioner, and I’m hanging out with two of my colleagues from NP school. It’s our little reunion. We’re learning about hearts, and we’re gonna go hike the red rocks next, where I’m going to tell them all about my healthcare service trip to Uganda.”

This snapshot of a day in Scharff’s life reveals the cornucopia of options available to nurse practitioners. An Oregon-based NP, Scharff has worked with a range of patient populations, from schoolchildren to gerontology patients in surgical acute care and from those obtaining elective cosmetic injections to uninsured migrant agricultural workers seeking primary care. 

A Zeal for Helping the Vulnerable and Speaking Spanish

As a student in her first of two bachelor’s degree programs, Scharff knew two things: she liked helping vulnerable people and working with Hispanic populations. She double majored in Spanish and Psychology, a choice that would continuously influence her path in nursing and prompt her eventual advancement from registered nurse (RN) to NP.

After college, Scharff worked with vulnerable youth as a research associate. Seeing some of the challenges her subjects faced, she began considering ways to help more directly.

“I really wanted to be able to make a difference in these people’s lives, and I think that pushed me towards nursing,” Scharff told Vivian.

She entered nursing school, ultimately earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing, but maintained her research position part-time for 10 years.

“It was a longitudinal study where we got to know some of these clients from sixth grade until they were 21 and see how they progress, but also see the adversity that a lot of them face,” she said.

As Scharff witnessed the challenges these youth could overcome, she simultaneously opted to challenge herself by pursuing cardiac care in her initial nursing career.

“I remember in nursing school feeling the heart is so complex and important to every function of the body,” explained Scharff. “I also remember being intimidated that I wouldn’t be intelligent enough to really conquer and understand it. But then I told myself, ‘I’m going to challenge myself, and if I can learn and master the heart, then I’m going to feel really confident in going on to the next level throughout my nursing career.’”

After several years of working simultaneously in cardiac care and as a school nurse, Scharff was inspired to move to that next level while providing care to the Spanish-speaking population she had always loved serving. She began working for Salud Services, a non-profit funded by winemakers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, to care for the migrant farm workers who tend to the region’s prized grapes.

“We would find the workers had hypertension and diabetes, and we would be this bridge for those without health insurance to a place where they could get healthcare,” Scharff said. “I finished that work and realized that I really want to be able to be a provider—not just taking vitals and giving shots—I wanted to be able to write the orders, make the plans and prescribe the medications for their hypertension and diabetes.”

Soon, she was pursuing her third major degree, this time to become a nurse practitioner.

Becoming a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioner jobs offer more variety and autonomy than traditional registered nursing roles. Depending on their state of practice and specific course of training, NPs can take a patient’s medical history, diagnose and treat illness, prescribe medications and perform certain procedures, including assisting surgeons in the OR and providing post-op care. Nurse practitioners’ advanced training and job complexities garner them higher average salaries than RNs.

While RNs can level up to NP in as little as two years with full-time schooling, Scharff chose to keep working part-time while studying over a three-and-a-half-year period.

She explained, “We’re working women. We’ve got to make money and pay our bills.”

Getting to this life isn’t easy, though, as Scharff said, “It’s a really big transition to go from RN to being a provider. You’re now the one making decisions.”

During her NP training, a conversation turned Scharff’s career from a heavy focus on children to the opposite end of the demographic spectrum.

“I remember working with a gerontologist, and I asked her what made her want to care for the elderly. The doctor said, ‘Elana, if someone’s made it to age 80, they’ve done something right in their life, and they have some sort of accountability.’ That really resonated with me. Old people can be difficult patients with multiple comorbidities and medications, but these people have been accountable, and that’s the reason why they’ve made it to 80-plus,” she told us.

Elana Scharff, NP, at work

In addition to her current day job as a general surgery acute care nurse specializing in gerontology, Scharff has a self-described “side hustle” doing aesthetic injections and supervising other nurse injectors in Portland.

“My little tagline for myself is ‘butts and guts by day and beautiful faces by night.’ It’s the best of both worlds,” she said with a smile.

Scharff realizes that some people might ask why one would become a nurse practitioner instead of a doctor. She explained that she didn’t know she wanted to do medicine at the time. Moving from researcher to RN to NP allowed Scharff to explore her interests in phases and ultimately become a provider without locking in a pre-med track in college.

“It’s all been different phases of wanting to learn more and be able to make a bigger difference in my patients’ lives,” she elaborated.

Feeling Empowered on the Vivian Health Platform

With many professional certifications and experiences under her belt, Scharff sees the variety of work options available to her on the Vivian Health platform.  But it wasn’t always so easy. 

“I think I went from the era where it was like you had to beg and plead to get a job in health care. You’re a new grad and you take what you can get and you hope it’s something that you end up falling in love with,” Scharff recalls.

“Nowadays, I feel cool when going on Vivian and realize that I’m an asset,” Scharff told us. “I feel like I have a lot that I can give. I get to see all these options regarding choosing my location or travel nursing. I can provide bilingual care, I could do surgery, I could do cardiology, and oh my gosh, here’s seven different jobs that I could take.” 

“It actually makes you feel really empowered that all of this hard work has been worth it and that there are places that will value you, and they’re all at your fingertips with Vivian.”

Find nurse practitioner jobs you’ll love on Vivian Health.

Michael Hines

Michael Hines is a freelance researcher and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. For 20 years, he's written on various healthcare topics, including healthcare employment, telemedicine, healthcare legislation, obesity, immunotherapy and genomics. He also writes about technology and AI, public policy, finance and investing, consumer products and corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.

Comments (4)

So cool to read about someone who has clearly spent her whole life being in service of others. Elana is a bada$$ and her experience is incredible! I have no idea how she does it all. I felt so inspired reading this.


Elana has always excelled in everything she does, including her personal interactions and friendships. When she tackles something, you know her practice will always be excellent, compassionate, full hearted and genuine. Anyone who receives medical services from Elana can be assured that they are in the very best of hands.


I’ve always been so impressed with Elanna. She is smart and such a hard worker. But most of all, she is selfless and generous! You picked an excellent person for your first article in the series.
Full transparency, I’m her uncle and a physician.


Such an interesting read. Elana is very impressive!


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