Weber State University educates and supports military nurses

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 2:27 PM

London Lowe, Standard-Examiner

It’s zero dark thirty and Garet Cooper, who is a graduate of both the Weber State University School of Nursing and the WSU Army ROTC, begins his day in one of two very different ways: “Most days I start out at either the intensive care unit (ICU) getting reports on critically ill patients, or I’m at the flight line of an Apache helicopter, getting all the necessary information to prepare for a mission,” Garet explained. “I’m constantly challenged by both professions, by the sheer volume of knowledge required. The fact that each shift or flight is so different makes for a challenge every day!”

Garet is a nurse in the ICU at Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful, Utah, and is one of the Army’s first nurse pilots. He also is an Apache co-pilot/gunner with the Army National Guard’s Alpha Company.

The 2010 graduate of Weber State University credits his alma mater for its role in helping both his dreams come true.

“I started at another university, but transferred to Weber State because it’s known for its nursing program,” Garet said. “It all fell in line there. Not only was I able to get the medical training I wanted, but I was also able to enroll in the ROTC program. That’s what I needed to become an officer, to become a pilot. Everything just melded at Weber State.”

For the past 12 years, the WSU School of Nursing has provided strong support for our nation’s military through nursing education. As the liaison between the school and the ROTC, I have seen many amazing cadets progress through our program. WSU is one of the few nursing programs in the nation to have dedicated admission slots for Army and Air Force ROTC cadets.

We work with new recruits as well as veterans returning from active military duty. Our military veterans have a unique perspective on the needs of patients, families and nurses on the front lines. Often they make the best nurses, as they know personally how it feels to be wounded warriors.

My first experience in working with a nursing student who was a veteran was in 2005. A 20-something student with shrapnel scars from head to toe sat across my desk and relayed his terrifying experience of driving home from the Salt Lake City airport after returning from Iraq. During the entire drive, which he said felt like an eternity, he scanned for imminent attacks or braced himself for possible road-side bombings. He had survived the “Chow Hall Bombing,” on Dec. 21, 2004, which killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. soldiers. He also survived a tank bombing. He had learned firsthand just how vital emergency room and ICU nurses were in the lives of their patients, and he determined he would be that nurse for someone else sometime in the future. Now, in 2013, he is a charge nurse at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash.

In addition to training future military nurses, the WSU School of Nursing also partners with the George E. Wahlen Veterans Home in Ogden, Utah. Our students participate in clinical rotations and assist in providing care to the more than 100 residents. This special partnership affords unique experiences for our nursing students, including the opportunity to hear a little piece of history while performing a resident’s physical assessment. These heroes from World War II and other conflicts are patient with the beginning students and willing to share their stories and advice.

“Over the years, many of the residents have had so many histories and physical assessments done on them, they could do one on themselves,” explained Linda Rusch, a WSU nursing faculty member. “They are very good about letting us work with them. The nurses are welcoming and student-friendly, and I couldn’t do my job without them.”

The school of nursing will share in the celebrations that will be held at the Wahlen Veterans Home on Veterans Day.

This year marks the 60th anniversary for Weber State University’s School of Nursing. As part of our commitment to provide outstanding education, we are honored to support and celebrate the military service of the men and women in uniform — past and present.

London Lowe, MSN, RN, is a associate professor of nursing.

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