Veteran Fulfills Dream of Nursing Career

The William and Joanne Conway Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative at GW helps veterans like Elizabeth Kovacich enter the civilian nursing workforce.

May 24, 2023

Elizabeth Kovacich

Elizabeth Kovacich. (Will Atkins/GW Today)

As a child, Elizabeth Kovacich believed her dad, a veteran Navy pilot with over 30 years of service, had the coolest job. When she saw the 1986 “Top Gun” movie, Kovacich bragged to everyone, “that’s what my dad does.” 

Kovacich, a student at the George Washington University School of Nursing, laughs at the memory now. As she got older, she had even more admiration for her father’s military career because she understood the sacrifices he made in service to his country. 

Kovacich comes from a long line of military service members. Her grandfather was in the Air Force, her aunt was in the Navy and her brother was a medic in the Army. Growing up, Kovacich, who loved theater and planned to pursue acting, would tell her father she was never going to enlist in the military.

But in summer 2019, Kovacich enlisted in the Washington Air National Guard. Her father was the one who swore her into the service. It was a moment of great pride for him, but it came as a surprise. He joked, “You were the last of my children who I thought would ever join.”

Ultimately, Kovacich said, watching her father’s military career inspired her own desire to serve her community and country. Her service came when she was called to join the COVID-19 response in 2021 immediately after she finished her technical military training to be a medic.

She said jumping into a crisis so soon out of training was overwhelming at first, but the long hours were worth it when she saw how much it meant to the people she was helping. 

“When the vaccine sites first opened, we were there for 12 to 14 hours a day. My hands swelled because we were giving so many shots. I had them bandaged up and just kept giving shots,” Kovacich said. 

In those dark, devastating times, she realized just how much connecting with her community mattered. 

“We saw a lot of elderly people who were inside their homes and hadn’t had any human contact for almost a year or people who had recently lost someone,” Kovacich said. “For a lot of them, we were the first people they talked to face to face in a long time. Getting to connect with them was very meaningful. It’s something I’ll always remember.” 

Kovacich realized the fulfillment she felt from serving others and began considering a career in nursing. 

What finalized Kovacich’s decision to become a nurse was a heartbreaking car crash involving one of her close friends. He was hit by a drunk driver and suffered life-threatening injuries.

When Kovacich would visit him in the hospital, she saw how important the nurses were to his healing journey. “The interactions with the staff would really make or break his day,” Kovacich said. 

During one of those visits, while she was helping her friend, he looked over at her and said, “You’d make a really good nurse.” 

Those words brought her to tears. 

“He didn’t know I was considering becoming a nurse so it confirmed that nursing was the right choice for me,” Kovacich said. 

Kovacich and her father
Elizabeth Kovacich and her father, Kevin Kovacich.

She began looking into various nursing programs and GW Nursing quickly became her top choice to pursue her dreams.

“GW’s program is military friendly and that really appealed to me,” Kovacich said. “None of the other programs I looked into were as supportive of military members as this program is.” 

She said completing school can be difficult for anyone, which is why having a university that understands the unique challenges service members may face is extremely important. 

“Being in the military, you do have a different life experience. You almost have a different language. And sometimes it’s hard to connect that with what we call civilian life,” Kovacich said. “GW was such a huge appeal because having that extra support plus scholarship funding to help get through school is everything.” 

Kovacich received a scholarship as part of the William and Joanne Conway Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative, started at GW in 2020 with a $2.5 million gift from the Bedford Falls Foundation-DAF established by William and Joanne Conway. This critical scholarship at GW’s School of Nursing offers financial assistance to veterans pursuing a bachelor of science degree in nursing and has helped nearly 40 veterans since its inception.  The Conway Transitioning Warriors Scholarship supports the educational pursuits of the brave men and women in the armed forces who want to continue their service to our country as civilian nurses at a time when they are especially needed.

“It was a great feeling when I found out I got the scholarship,” Kovacich said. “It felt like someone was saying, ‘We see how hard you're working and how much you will continue to do.’ It felt like the highest praise. It meant so much.” 

Kovacich said the scholarship will allow her to pursue her dreams of becoming a nurse, something she wouldn’t have been able to otherwise afford.

“It’s no secret that veterans get GI Bill benefits, but what a lot of people don't realize is that those in the Air National Guard or the Reserves, we don’t get 100 percent of benefits,” Kovacich said. “The scholarship took a lot off my plate. I didn’t have to worry about whether I could afford to go to school, I could just focus on my studies.” 

Kovacich, who graduates this month, sees a career in nursing as a continuation of her service to her country, and it is an opportunity she’s grateful to have. 

“I just want to give back as much as I can because there’s so much I’m grateful for in my life so I want to return that by helping others,” Kovacich said.

Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships charts a course to increase access to the transformative power of a GW degree. If you would like to open doors for more students in the School of Nursing please consider a donation to the Conway Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative.