GW Veterans Seek New Ways to Serve Through Nursing

Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars reflect on continuing their service to the community through nursing during a global pandemic.

November 9, 2020

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GW Nursing student veterans Diamond Alexander (left) and Tyler Wood.

By Kristen Mitchell

George Washington University School of Nursing student Tyler Wood said it was a desire to continue serving others that pushed him to pursue a career in nursing after completing his service as a combat medic in the United States Navy. 

Mr. Wood was working a job in sales when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March.  He heard about a group of former medics and military personnel who were providing care at a Manhattan hospital, and at the urging of a friend, volunteered his time to join them for a month in the spring. With a background in disaster medicine, Mr. Wood said he feels “comfortable in the chaos.” 

“That experience really put me over the edge in wanting to jump back into the medical field and, ultimately, nursing,” he said. 

Mr. Wood, who began the accelerated bachelor of science in nursing veterans option (Veterans B.S.N.) this fall, is one of five current beneficiaries of the largest philanthropic gift in GW Nursing’s history. Earlier this year, GW Nursing announced it received a $2.5 million gift to launch the William and Joanne Conway Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative and provide financial assistance to 65 veterans pursuing B.S.N. degrees over the next five years.

"Many veteran students have military benefits that may provide tuition support, so it can be easy to assume that they don’t need additional financial assistance," said GW Nursing Dean Pamela Jeffries. "What we were finding, however, is that the biggest obstacle for them in pursuing their educational goals was the cost of living expenses that weren’t being met. As a result, these scholarships were given as tuition awards or stipends to help defray some of these costs."

Mr. Wood said the decision to come to GW was easy. GW Nursing is well-known for its robust programs geared toward helping veterans transition to a new career after their service. Being selected for the Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative provided much needed relief, Mr. Wood said, particularly at a time of financial uncertainty.

“I don't think I would be here without that,” he said. 

This Veterans Day, Dean Jeffries said she is reflecting on the service of student veterans with gratitude. 

“Nurses will continue to provide critical care on the front lines of this once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis,” she said. “Our veteran students have served bravely on the front lines before and we are grateful for their continued service as this new battle rages on.”

After serving as a hospital corpsman in the Navy, Diamond Alexander knew she wanted to continue her education and become a nurse after separating from the military in May. Ms. Alexander wanted to continue serving individuals in need and follow in the footsteps of her grandmother, a retired nurse. 

Ms. Alexander began her B.S.N. program in the fall as a Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholar. While she previously focused on emergency medicine and meeting acute needs, as a nursing student she is learning more about how to respond to a wide variety of health concerns and symptoms.

“Being a nurse is totally different from being a hospital corpsman, but nursing is so service-oriented,” she said. “They spend the most time with patients, they get to know the patients, they get to know the family members. I want to continue making sure my patients have the best experience.”

The pandemic has brought on new challenges for Ms. Alexander’s family. Her father, immunocompromised after a kidney transplant two years ago, was laid off because of the pandemic. The Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative has allowed Ms. Alexander to pursue her education while also providing for her parents and younger siblings.

“It helped me be able to help my family and make sure they are supported, so that’s one thing I need to worry less about,” she said. “I can focus on taking care of my patients and doing my coursework without being distracted and worried about finances.”

Gretchen Wiersma, assistant professor and the veterans and military faculty liaison at GW Nursing, added, “as student veterans, they are on a journey to continue their commitment to serving others. This journey will not be easy, but the generous support of the Transitioning Warriors Scholars Initiative will make the road ahead that much easier for the recipients.”

Ms. Alexander came to GW because of the robust programs for veterans, but receiving financial support has been “icing on top of a very delicious cake,” she said.