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Diversity, flexibility of Nurse Corps members makes them stand out

Image of Military personnel speaking at a podium. Click to open a larger version of the image. For Army Col. Vince Myers, an Army nurse serving as the chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, the range and responsibilities of nurses’ duties are what make them a critical element of the medical team (Photo by: Courtesy Army Col. Vince Myers).

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Military nursing is an ever-evolving profession. Since the 1700s there have been nurses in the United States military, tending to the injured and providing comfort to those in their care.

Within the Nurse Corps, responsibilities can range from serving as a practicing clinician to a health care administrator. Nurses are often asked to handle a wide variety of non-nursing tasks while still maintaining their clinical skills.

For Army Col. Vince Myers, an Army nurse serving as the chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, this diversity and flexibility is what makes nurses a critical element of the medical team.

The impact of military nurses goes well beyond the hospital or clinic. They can be found evaluating informatics or performing analyses, in research labs, classrooms, and various leadership positions. Each area of expertise contributes to advancing the mission of the Military Health System.

Myers has served in a variety of traditional and non-traditional nursing roles over the course of his 20-year career, but he remains connected to the community.

"Regardless of my role in the Army or the Military Health System (MHS), I remain focused on supporting and mentoring Army nurses across the globe," Myers said. "Even after you move into roles at higher levels, you must remain proficient in your skills as a nurse and a leader."

As the Military Health System changes under the Defense Health Agency (DHA), Myers said, there are many things that Army nurses are doing, not just supporting Army nursing, but military medicine across the board. He sees these non-traditional roles as opportunities to support the wider mission.

"It all comes down to using everything you've learned from your first assignment to pave the way for opportunities to advance military medicine, whether that's a policy role, a congressional role or even a traditional nursing leadership role," said Myers.

Although Myers is a member of the Army Nurse Corps, he said National Nurses Week, which takes place from May 6-12, is a reminder that military nurses are all working toward the same goal.

"When you talk about the Nurse Corps, this year's theme, "Unified. Reliable. Ready." is really fitting. As Army nurses, it is critical that we're unified and supportive of each other and the other corps, whether it be Navy or Air Force," Myers said. "As we share our experience, lessons learned and opportunities to support an array of things within nursing, not just within our own services, that unity is extremely important. Across the services, even though we have our unique capabilities and skills, there are many opportunities to work together in the current setting to advance military nursing as a whole."

Myers said that civilian nurses at military medical treatment facilities (MTFs) throughout the MHS play a vital role in developing military nurses.

Military health personnel wearing a face mask checking a patients vitals
Patti Carlsen, a nurse at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, checks a patient’s vitals. Civilian nurses at military medical treatment facilities throughout the Military Health System play a vital role in developing military nurses (Photo by: Deidre Smith, Naval Hospital Jacksonville).

"We work hand-in-hand and I've learned an incredible amount from great civilian nurses. Across the Department of Defense, civilian nurses are critical to developing our military nurses and play a large role in shaping how we learn and grow in the future," Myers said. "In my experience, as a young second lieutenant at Fort Gordon, Georgia, the very experienced civilian nurses were the ones that really helped me hone my skills in that first assignment, fresh out of college with little experience."

This development would be virtually impossible without the support of civilian nurses, who comprise roughly 70-80% of the nursing staff at MTFs, working with and teaching the fundamentals to young military nurses, said Myers.

Myers said he owes civilian nurses a debt of gratitude for preparing him for deployment.

"When you deploy, there are a limited number of nurses at each site. What prepared me for the deployed role was my experience at the MTF where civilian nurses truly taught me how to be a nurse," said Myers. "When I deployed to Afghanistan, I was ready to be on my own to support the force in an austere deployed environment."

Myers said that the opportunities to fill non-traditional roles throughout his career are one of the biggest factors that has kept him in the military.

"The fact that I had opportunities to lead early in my career coupled with a variety of experiences in multiple locations and settings, including being deployed, is really what hooked me and kept me in military nursing to this day," said Myers.

The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has only served to reinforce the importance and mission of the Nurse Corps.

"As we look at the pandemic and how we approached it, this year's Nurses Week theme, again, is very fitting for military nurses. Unified – it was and remains a unified effort across the services. Reliable – I can rely on the nurses that I've worked with to be able to take on any challenge in any setting under any conditions. Ready – the Nurse Corps is always ready for any challenge ahead," Myers said. "The challenges you face will never come at you in textbook manner, so the key is to be able to shift and adapt to the environment and COVID is a great example of that."

Nurses Week is an opportunity to pause and reflect, said Myers.

"We're running so hard the entire year and it provides us an opportunity to celebrate our profession and reflect on helping others, as well as collaborate, to come together as a group and say, 'Hey, here's what we learned and here are the things we can work on together,'" he said. "It's more than just a celebration, it's an opportunity to look at our practice and profession and make it better."

Myers said he owes his career to his peers, predecessors, and leadership, within and outside of the Nurse Corps.

"It's truly an honor to be an Army nurse. I came into the Army to support my service obligation from four years of ROTC in college, and I always planned on departing at the four-year and one-day mark," Myers said. "Because of the nurses around me, my peers, the civilian nurses and all of the leaders in professions beyond nursing in the Army and the DOD, I'm still here."

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