Honorable Few – Capt. J.J. Harris

Marine Corps League Detachment #1302

Military experience a valuable asset for veterans in nursing careers

When those who serve are ready to leave the military life behind, they often find themselves asking a simple, yet complicated question: What should I do next?

One popular option for veterans is a career in healthcare, nursing in particular. Job search platform Indeed ranks the career of registered nurse at No. 15 on its list of 25 career options for former military members, citing veterans’ “experience making decisions under pressure, communicating in high-stress situations, diagnosis and root cause analysis” as military experiences that translate well into the medical field. The listed national average salary of more than $88,000 annually is also an appealing aspect of the nursing field.

Potential nursing candidates can earn plenty of field experience through the military before enrolling in nursing programs after their service time. And as the demand for nurses grows, the desire to find qualified candidates can be felt all over the country.

IntelyCare is a nurse-staffing company based in Quincy, Massachusetts, that operates in 31 states and assists veterans pursue openings in the nursing profession. The firm helps candidates with onboarding, credentialing and training for their careers.

One veteran who found her way to a nursing career is Kelsi Speight, a Registered Nurse based in Ohio, who started her military career in the Air Force. She did not plan on becoming a medic, but wound up treating servicemen and women who were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

She was a travel nurse when the COVID-19 pandemic started, and she worked on over-capacity hospital floors with help from FEMA and National Guard officials to help care for patients. She credited her experience with the Air Force to get her through the troubling time. Speight is also proud to serve as a role model for fellow African-American women to follow her path.

“I don’t see it as my duty,” she says. “I see it as some people need help, and some people are capable of helping. If I can help someone, I’m going to help them. The discipline and teamwork I’ve learned, I’ve applied to nursing, and everywhere I go, I try to display it.”

Renee Petell and Nicole Cernek both had family backgrounds in healthcare, but took a little while longer and time serving the country before finding their way into the nursing profession.

Petell’s father and aunt both had long careers in healthcare, which Renee took a liking to in the 10th grade, taking a shop course that led to her earning her certified nursing assistant’s certificate before turning 18. After graduation, she enlisted in the Army and eventually joined the Army Reserves as a medical supply specialist and was part of a unit responsible for training combat units to create in-field medical facilities. That service required her spending one weekend a month and two weeks a year traveling the U.S. and simulating scenarios helping set up fully functional hospital units inside tents. While serving she also obtained her Licensed Practical Nursing degree and started her career. She currently resides in Massachusetts.

Petell says her career provides her the same bonding experiences she had during the military with fellow servicemembers.

“You’re making the person happy for the day,” Petell says of her patients. “I still find a lot of happiness in nursing because of that. Those are the days that remind me of how much I love my job.”

Cernek, a Certified Nursing Assistant in Pennsylvania, started a career in nursing in 2009 before enlisting in the Navy almost a decade later, in 2018. She served with the Seabees unit during a deployment to Bahrain where she played a vital role constructing infrastructure like roads, buildings and plumbing systems.

She’s currently training at Fort Dix in New Jersey as part of the Navy Reserves while returning to her civilian role as a caregiver.

“I want to help everyone I can,” Cemek says. “It is my purpose, it’s why I’m here – to care for everyone and everything that I can. I am proud to serve my country and proud to be a CNA.”