From Civilian to Service: My Journey as a Navy Nurse

Written by: Hanna Wisner, RN-BSN, LT, NC, USN

I always knew I wanted to be a nurse. My initial plan was to go to nursing school right out of high school. Unfortunately, I had to choose between playing a sport, which provided a scholarship, and being a nursing major. I ended up choosing to continue with my athletic commitments and put nursing school on hold. This gave me an opportunity to grow, mature, and be sure nursing was still my passion. After graduation I started a job in law enforcement and immediately knew I had to chase my nursing dream.

After looking at programs for an accelerated second-degree, I realized I missed the deadline for that year! I decided to apply to the only school whose deadline I hadn’t missed (which we all know is not advised- always have a backup plan). I was shocked when I was accepted.

The Financial Burdens of Nursing School

There was just one problem: the school was right outside Washington, D.C. We all know that comes with a high cost of living. For a 25-year-old with no real savings to speak of that sounded daunting. I immediately started looking for options for grants, scholarships, or jobs that could help decrease the burden of the student loans I would be accumulating.

Every search kept coming back with military service options. Never in my life did I imagined myself joining the military. I wasn’t even sure if I could do it. I would close my laptop repeatedly and tell myself I’d think about it. One day I knew I had been thinking it over for too long, and I sent an email to the nearest recruiting office. Before I knew it, I was swearing into the United States Navy. In return I would receive a stipend for living expenses, one less thing to worry about.

Core Values

The Navy’s Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment felt like they easily crossed into nursing. I also knew I was signing up to see the world. Other than that, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Immediately, I started googling questions I had about military service. I came across a few blogs, much like this one, but nothing really gave me a clear explanation.

During my last semester my detailer (the person who you negotiate orders with) emailed me and asked where I would like to go for my first duty station. I filled out the “dream sheet” with my top three choices: San Diego, California, Bethesda, Maryland, and Portsmouth, Virginia. I will never forget the day I picked up my phone and had a voicemail from an unknown number. Hitting play, I heard the words “congratulations, I’m excited to tell you I’ve proposed orders to your first pick of San Diego, California. All you have to do now is pass the NCLEX and give me a call once you do.”

After the NCLEX I began making plans for my cross-country move. Arranging for the movers to come pick up my belongings and mapping out the route I would take. Soon it was the day of departure, and I made my way across the country.

My Beginnings as a Navy Nurse

Upon arrival, I quickly realized the Navy’s goal is to create a well-rounded sailor who can utilize their skill sets in all different environments. This was intriguing to me, because throughout nursing school I never felt a strong pull toward any specialty. I began my journey in the Maternal Child Infant Nursing Department. This was comprised of labor and delivery, ante-partum, post-partum, and neonatal intensive care. As you can imagine, it created a wide range of experiences across my three years.

At two years it was time to choose my next duty station. My time in San Diego was amazing, but I found myself longing to be a little closer to family on the east coast. I chose to move to South Carolina and take a job working with the Marines at Parris Island.

This has been an interesting tour to say the least. Very fast paced and a lot of thinking and acting on your feet. This experience has taught me to read into people as opposed to the typical nursing school of thought where you listen to the needs of the patient. This tour has also given me the opportunity to grow in my leadership skills. I took a job as the Department Head of the primary care clinic where I have the privilege of leading other military officers and enlisted staff through the day-to-day care of approximately 10,000 beneficiaries.

Unchartered Waters

My next assignment will also lead me into a new experience. I am headed down to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in about a month. As a navy nurse, I never know what to expect until I arrive. When people ask what I like most about nursing in the Navy, my first response is always that I get a new job every three years. I’m able to move positions as my career progresses, and I am constantly meeting and working with new people.

One of the downfalls is I feel like I haven’t mastered any one aspect of nursing. I know a little about a lot of things, as opposed to being an expert at one or a couple. I’m not sure how that will translate if I decide to stop my active-duty service, but I’m thankful for all the experiences.

The Navy has given me opportunities I never dreamed of. I’ve made friends across the world (literally), and it’s forced me outside my comfort zone more times than I can count. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate to repeat the process.

Edited by: Claire Lang


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