Get to know nurse Captain Estacy Porter, the public health nurse officer in charge at the 14th Combat Support Hospital in Fort Benning, Georgia. Hear about Captain Porter’s military career in nursing and questions from nursing students, as part of our “Ask A Nurse” portion of the podcast.
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Jamie Davis: Hi, Estacy and welcome to Nursing Notes Live. It’s great to have you here on the show with us today.
Estacy Porter: Oh, thank you, Jamie, for having me.
Jamie: So I always ask our nurses on the show to share a little bit about why you wanted to become a nurse. So if you like to just tell us what drew you to nursing as a career, a little bit about your background.
Estacy: I think my very first experience or what drew me into nursing was, well, watching my mother. My mother was not a nurse but she’s like working as a home health aid in New York and I would always watch and see her caring for the older population and so I knew that when I got older that I want to do something similar to that but expound a little bit more and nursing was to seal that, fell in love with or attracted me.
Jamie: So I know you’re in the military, our subject this month is talking about nursing in the military and tell us a little bit about your career progression in the military and how you moved into nursing school and beyond.
Estacy: Okay. So when I graduated from high school, I wanted to join the military and I wanted to join in the healthcare field, nursing. So I went up to the recruiter, they did not have nursing available at that time. And so he showed me another field which was chemical, biological and nuclear specialist and he showed me a picture of somebody working. And the lab called and said, “You know this is something similar to nursing.” So I said, “Okay, fine, great.” So for 13 years, I did that and somewhere around that year, I found out that the Army had a program where they would fund you to go to nursing school for two years and once you get your bachelor’s, then you can come in as a commissioned officer, second lieutenant. So I jumped on that opportunity and said, “Wow, the opportunity, I’ll be able to pursue my passion. Not that I didn’t like the battlefield but I kind of got used to it and kind of forgot about the nursing thing. So, anyway, I went to school and pursued nursing with Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Oh, wow, the opportunity has just have been open ever since then.
Jamie: That’s great. You’re a captain, now, right?
Estacy: Yes. I am a captain. I’m a captain in the Army. Once I became a nurse, I went to – the beautiful thing about the Army is when you become commissioned and as a nurse, they take you to a preceptorship or an intro to officership in nursing. So I went to San Antonio for two weeks and we kind of got introduced on how to become an officer or what the expectations as an officer is and as an Army Nurse Corps officer. I went there and I started off as a med-surg nurse in Augusta, Georgia. I loved it. That’s why I was able to build up all my skills and foundation in nursing. From there, I went to Korea and I became a Public Health Nurse right before that. So I loved med-surg but I knew my passion lies because I’m a public health nurse. I really felt that it’s important to focus on preventive care. What is it that I can do for you to prevent you from getting into the hospital. So I loved the education and the counseling and teaching that to my patients so that they can have informed decisions.
Jamie: So there really are a lot of opportunities for all different nursing specialties in the military, I guess. I wouldn’t think of a public health nurse as a military nurse, but obviously, there’s been great opportunities there for you.
Estacy: Yes, there have been awesome opportunities. My first assignment as a public health nurse, it was in Korea, so I had the opportunity not only to work with soldiers but KATUSAs, which are the Korean soldiers and work with that population as well. I was also there when the – I would say the tsunami that happened in Japan. All of the families had to get staged in Korea. So public health nursing – so we were involved in that in making sure that the campsites were set the right way and kind of giving them information. If you notice any signs of any clinical disease, please let us know. I love it. I absolutely love it. After Korea, I’m currently stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. So I was able to expound on those skills while being there well because of some very big installation. Currently I’m a public health adviser or officer in charge to a combat support hospital. That job in itself entails so many – I ensure the medical readiness of the soldiers in the hospital as well as their family as well.
Jamie: It sounds like there’s just so many opportunities to move forward and expand your career. I know several officers in the military in other fields. One of the things that always impress me was how they were encouraged to get advanced degrees and move forward in their education and that’s true for you in nursing as well.
Estacy: Yes, so I was able to go through the Army Commissioned program and now I am applying through the Army’s long-term health education and training program. With that, if you are able to apply for graduate program and they will send you to school for three years to pursuit whether it be a master’s or a doctorate. And I was selected for a very competitive program. So I feel very blessed and fortunate to have been selected for that. So I will be attending school for three years to pursue my doctorate in nursing with the focus of becoming a health nurse practitioner.
Jamie: That’s so exciting and, again, that just impresses me that there are so many various opportunities to do many things. We don’t really think of the military as having broad population base but they really do and you have many missions and opportunities to serve in lots of different ways.
Estacy: Yes, we do. We had opportunities even – if you specialize in critical care nursing, one of the opportunities for critical care nurses, they are able to have a White House Fellowship. It is a competitive program as well that you have to apply for to be able to serve in the White House as a nurse.
Jamie: That’s just amazing to me. As a military nurse, what would you say to somebody that was looking to – at the military as a career field maybe either a nurse looking to enlist and carry their nursing career into the military or if someone is thinking about as a student nurse going into the military? Are there things that they need to think about with regards to differences between what goes on in the civilian sector versus the military?
Estacy: One of the differences, of course, I would tell them, “Go for it.” One of the things that I would say keep and to keep in mind is that, in addition to our nursing responsibilities, we also have military responsibilities. We have to make sure that we are physically fit. Every six months, we’re required to take the – well, physical fitness test. You have to maintain military readiness. That’s going to ranges and being able to fire a weapon – whether the M16, M9 – you have to be able to do that. You have to be able to – also the training requirements that the military expects from you. So those will be – if I can point out one of the biggest differences it would be that in addition to your nursing responsibilities, you also have standards that you have to meet in the Army, or in any military career, you have to meet their standards.
Jamie: But it sounds just so exciting and really those standards aren’t something that’s going to keep the average person from pursuing a career in the military and it sounds like there’s just a host of opportunities.
Estacy: Yes, there is. There is opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Jamie: So we always get some questions in from student nurses along the way and we try to ask some of our nurses here on the call to share some of their experiences and thoughts with the audience that catches the show. Do you have any advice for these student nurses out there – they may be just starting in nursing school or in the middle of nursing school – that you found helped you when you were going through school?
Estacy: I would definitely say that some of the things that helped me were getting involved in study groups. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or assistance. You have your peers. They are there that are willing to assist you. You have your professors who are willing to assist you. Nursing school is very challenging, and it is not a time to – it’s one of those schools that you just cannot take it for granted. Study, do not give up. One of the mantras that I said to myself, that kept me going, was nursing is my purpose, my passion and my calling. Find that and just seek help when you feel like you’re at that end of giving up. Definitely, one of the things I would say is seek, help and study. Get involved in study groups.
Jamie: That’s great advice and I have to concur. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done was to go to nursing school but it was rewarding as well. Right, there are plenty of people – your instructors and your other fellow students – are all there to help each other and you can succeed if you just look for the resources.
Estacy: Exactly. I do agree.
Jamie: So if you thought of that, when you first started as a nurse, what would you wish you knew at the time that you now have learned over the course of your career?
Estacy: Well, one is how difficult it was. I would have prepared beforehand. Yes, that’s one, prepare beforehand.
Jamie: That’s okay. No, if you can’t think of anything, that’s alright.
Estacy: Yes, I can’t really think of anything. It’s just one of those that I just learned. To be disciplined, I would say that. Be disciplined in your studies. That’s it. Whatever you may have learned before kind of drop that and just be open-minded running the new information.
Jamie: Why did you decide to move on to graduate school and get some additional education?
Estacy: Honestly, I feel that, as nurses, we should constantly be seeking continuing education. I feel that we should be role models to others in the healthcare profession as well. We carry that same knowledge. And I wanted to ask expound on those knowledge so that I can contribute even more to pushing nursing forward. I feel like the nursing is moving in a direction that we are needed and we’re going to be needed even more. We are going to need nurses with advanced education. Just wanting to expound on my knowledge and just move nursing forward is one of the things that have motivated me to pursue my master’s and then now my doctorate.
Jamie: What is it about nursing that you think is so important to the healthcare system at this time? You said that we’re going to need more nurses, especially advanced practice nurses, expand a little bit on that thought process.
Estacy: Right. I feel like as healthcare is evolving with the Affordable Care Act, I thought nurses – we have voices and we have a voice of change. So I believe that we are those patients that give advocate. So we need to be out there. We need to be in the forefront. When policies are being made, we need to be there. Our voices need to be heard when those policies are coming in effect. We are leaders and we are contributing for it.
Jamie: I really agree and I wish more nurses took that leadership role in healthcare, I think, so often we are complacent in the midst of our profession and yet we’re so numerous we could really bring to bear a lot of weight to our audience.
Estacy: Yes, we can.
Jamie: So what was the best piece of nursing advice you’ve ever received?
Estacy: The best piece of nursing advice that I received was “Pursue your passion and don’t give up and make a change.” Yes.
Jamie: It’s funny, you walk into a room and you say you’re somebody’s nurse. People have an expectation of what that means and there’s a tremendous responsibility and passion that goes along with that.
Estacy: I suppose, there’s the compassion, the caring. They do expect a lot from us.
Jamie: I’m a passionate nurse about what I do even as a journalist in carrying on and getting good information out there to an audience about healthcare and about nursing. It sounds like you’re just as passionate about your patient care and things you do as well.
Estacy: Yes. It’s all about ensuring that the patient is receiving the best care possible and the quality care. Nursing is, when we are going into that patient’s room, introducing ourselves to that patient by their name not by their room number. It makes a difference.
Jamie: Yes, that personal touch is really what makes it so special.
Jamie: Well, is there any final thought you’d like to share with our audience about a career as a military nurse and opportunities there?
Estacy: I would say if you’re thinking about pursuing a career in the military, I’d say go for it. When you come in to the military, they will ensure your success. We had a great preceptorship program. There are great mentors out there to help guide you along the way. In fact, like I said, nursing has a two-year program. When you come in as a nurse into the military for two years, they process what they show you how to pretty much function in a military hospital before they let you go out on your own. So the opportunity for professional growth is there. If you’re seeking to be challenged, the military is definitely a field where you will be challenged. You will not be complacent in just one area. There are so many fields to specialize in. Even when we specialize in a particular course, whether it would be critical care, whether it would be emergency nursing, there’s even more opportunities for professional development within. So I’d say go for it and allow yourself to be challenged. You can do it.
Make sure you check out the entire May, 2014 issue of Nursing Notes, where we look at nursing by and for military service members and veterans. You can read the entire issue online at www.discovernursing.com and don’t miss the other Nursing Notes Live episode this month where I sit down with our panel of nurses including Bonnie Jennings, a retired army nurse and professor of nursing at Emory University Nell Hdgson Woodruff School of Nursing in Atlanta, Georgia, and Larry Lemos, president of the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs and a nursing officer/supervisor at the Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System in Long Beach, California. You’ll find this and other episodes of Nursing Notes Live in the podcast area on iTunes.