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From A Workplace Injury To Nurse Entrepreneur of The Year, Mel’s Story

How a “happy accident” led one nurse to develop an entirely new career, sharing hope and positivity. 

Melanie Van Sistine, BSN, RN (@mels.crafty.corner), was named by the nursing community as Nurse.org’s Best of Nursing Awards Nurse Entrepreneur of the Year who both nominated and voted for her, is a nurse who has witnessed a lot of challenges in her career. 

After failing her initial attempt at the NCLEX (after going through all 285 questions and sitting through the exam for the full 5.5 hours), she then went on to pass it and not only become a Pediatric Acute Care bedside nurse but also a three-time Daisy Award nominated charge nurse. Sistine is no stranger to facing a challenge head-on. 

However, when she encountered being canceled for nearly every shift she was scheduled for over 18 weeks during COVID, Van Sistine faced a wake-up call of some of the negativity she saw in the world of nursing. 

She decided to make a change, creating a rainbow-themed T-shirt that symbolized hope for her fellow Peds nurses. That single T-shirt sparked a movement that today has led Van Sistine to run Mel’s Crafty Corner as a full-time business. Mel’s Crafty Corner sells nurse-themed goodies, apparel, and digital products, and boast over 61.2K followers on Instagram. She participates in pop-up markets to connect with her customers. 

Nurse.org had a chance to chat with Van Sistine to learn more about how she started her business, what it means to be a nurse entrepreneur, and what she hopes 2024 will hold for her. 

@mels.crafty.corner 

@mels.crafty.corner 

In Bob Ross-esque fashion, Van Sistine admits that her business was started by a “happy accident” after her shifts were canceled during the pandemic. 

Normally, Van Sistine kept busy in her day job as an acute care pediatric nurse, specializing in GI/GU disorders, endocrinology, genetic abnormalities, and pulmonary concerns, as well as diabetic education and charge nursing. But her time away from the bedside sparked a newfound interest in sharing positivity, which is where her first rainbow-themed T-shirt was born. 

Van Sistine says that shirt simply “caught on” at work, so she began taking orders locally before creating a Shopify website and accepting orders from all over the country. Her desire to get serious with her apparel business was also sparked by an unfortunate back injury she suffered while on the job as a nurse. As Van Sistine describes it, she was moving a total care patient who lacked a turning system underneath them during a 3 AM admission.

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“The doctors and I got creative and moved him using the fitted sheet from the ER gurney,” she notes. “I felt a tweak in my back but didn’t report it. Long story short, the straw on the camel’s back was putting a pizza in the oven 2 weeks later. The pizza herniated L4-L5 & L5-S1.”

Van Sistine says her injury was a “debilitating one,” leading to needing her husband to help dress her from the waist down and a mandatory six months off of work with doctor’s restrictions. And while the injury and the unknown it caused in her future were difficult, the silver lining was that it gave her more time to focus on her business and “find ways to keep supporting my fRNds (her business’s themed name for nurse friends) who may have suffered the same or in similar circumstances,” she adds. 

She left bedside nursing in September of 2022 due to what she calls a combination of her “back injury, weight restrictions and not feeling the support from my organization,” to spread “more of my sunshine to anyone willing and able to receive it.”

@mels.crafty.corner 

“Management gave me a choice to either suffer from a toxic culture in silence or provide my notice,” Van Sistine describes. “It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I had worked my entire career to be where I was, I thought I would retire as a bedside nurse. But my body and the universe had different plans for me and I’m rolling with it. It became very clear to me that I couldn’t change the culture, and patient safety became an issue. There was an incident that proved to me that the only person who had my back (literally and figuratively) was myself.”

@mels.crafty.corner 

Today, Van Sistine primarily sells apparel that she creates from the second bedroom of her apartment she shares with her husband and dog. She sells her goods on her website (Shop Mel’s Crafty Corner), as well as on the Adni Marketplace and TikTok Shop.

She sees the work she does as pouring into the nurses who continue to give so much to others. 

“We have grown a creative and supportive community where nurses can feel seen, appreciated, heard, and loved for the work they do on and off the floor,” Van Sistine notes. “I know firsthand how hard it is to not feel supported as a nurse and I do my best to make sure my nurse friends have someone in their coRNer!”

@mels.crafty.corner 

Part of Van Sistine’s mission in her goods, as well as her overall life approach, is a focus on mental health. In fact, she says her personal favorite product is the “Build Your Own Mental Health” crewneck sweatshirt that offers customers the freedom to choose their color, design, and front or back placement. 

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The sweatshirt features her first best-selling “Be Kind To Your Mind” design that she doodled during a dark point in my life. “My therapist often tells me–to this day to “be kind to yourself” and I wanted to create something to help remind me to do just that,” Van Sistine says. The sweatshirt also has the option to add a floral ‘happy drug’ component and choose between Serotonin, Dopamine, or Oxytocin.

“It was so much fun designing these and getting back into my Organic Chemistry days in nursing school,” Van Sistine says. “I think why I love it so much is because I know it has not only provided me with some peace and grace, but it has helped so many others in their mental health journey.”

Being open and honest about her own challenges, from mental to physical health, is a big part of what Van Sistine believes has been central to her success as an entrepreneur, and she stands behind sharing her full journey. 

“I’m proud of the work I have done in my mental health journey and being vulnerable with my audience about certain topics,” she says. “I am proud of my authenticity in showing all sides of me and my business, even if it means me showing me in tears. I’d rather be real and raw than fake and deceitful.” 

@mels.crafty.corner 

@mels.crafty.corner 

So what does it really take to pivot from bedside nursing to being a full-time entrepreneur and running your own design and apparel business? Well, just like she learned when taking her NCLEX the first time, Van Sistine says sometimes it’s as simple as being okay with trying and failing along the way. 

“99% of my business has been from trial and error,” she admits. “It’s actually been more along the lines of throwing things on the wall and seeing what sticks.”

She encourages other nurse entrepreneurs that it’s very normal to feel like you have “absolutely no idea” what you are doing, especially because business simply isn’t taught in nursing school. 

And even though there are many business and entrepreneurial resources available to new business owners just starting out, she says it can be a challenge to find the right ones for you and your individual business path. “What works for someone, might not work for me and vice versa,” she points out. 

But as a chronic pain sufferer from her back injury, Van Sistine knows how important it is to become your own advocate and find a way forward that works for you, which is exactly what she does day in and day out as a patient, nurse, and business owner. “Some days are better than others, but every day brings a challenge,” she says. “I have coined a nickname for my back pain and we call her ‘Becky.’ Whenever I’m having a moment and my husband asks me what’s wrong, I just say ‘Ol Becky is acting up again!’”

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“I still have a weight restriction and have to be careful with certain positions but I am thankful to be standing tall and moving!” Van Sistine adds.  

Despite all that she has accomplished already, in moving from bedside nursing to starting her own successful business, Van Sistine is excited for what the upcoming year might hold. Her goals are to find a way to expand her business physically with more space and engage more with her community, so she tells followers to look for more Mel’s Crafy Corner pop-ups in real life, collaborations with fellow business owner nurses, and events for her nurse fRNds. 

Hopefully, 2024 will mean more room for activities,” Van Sistine notes with a smile. 

Going into the year as Nurse.org’s Nurse Entrepreneur of the Year is also a highlight for Van Sistine because she says it helps highlight that despite a lot of the criticisms she faced in leaving her career as a nurse to start a full-time business, she really has succeeded in her goals. 

“This award means the world to me,” she says. “When I left nursing to pursue my passions, I was met with a lot of hate for leaving. People made comments like, ‘You’ll never make it,’ ‘No one will buy that,’ and ‘You’ll be back’ and even went as far as writing multiple pages of hate mail in my DMs.”

Sadly, Van Sistine shares she even lost the respect of certain family members who stopped talking to her. “So to have this award is proof that I did it, I made it happen, and I proved them all wrong,” she notes. “With the help of my online community, I created and run a successful business that aligns with the same passion and values they hold.”

She also hopes other nurses and budding entrepreneurs will be inspired by her journey because she believes it’s proof that change—and chasing your dreams of combining work as a nurse with business—is possible. 

“Winning this award proves that if I can do it, nothing is stopping you from pursuing your passions and still benefiting the community,” she says. “Even though I may not be practicing nursing at the moment, I am using my knowledge and expertise to help the healthcare community.”



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