New Nurse Grad Soldiers On

August 3rd, 2011


By , BSN, RN

One of the newest additions to the nursing field is Thomas A. Rangel, RN, BSN. Rangel just finished his Bachelor's of Science in Nursing in June and is already making plans to take his education even farther. It's been a long road to becoming a nurse, and Rangel worked hard all along the way, not just in school, but through jobs in health care, ranging from civilian to military life.

So how did this all begin?

I was 20 when I moved to Washington, D.C. as a scrub tech at Georgetown University Hospital. I left California, moved away from my family and my life. I was going to go to school. But, I was young, it turned out I was good at what I did, I had friends and fun, and I got comfortable. School didn't happen.

And you knew you wanted to be a nurse that whole time?

I thought I wanted to be a doctor eventually. But working as a scrub I got to know some physicians pretty well. One day I was listening to one of the orthopaedists saying how he only sees his kids [when they are] asleep during the week. They were asleep in the morning when he left and in bed for the night when he got home. I knew I wanted a better work/life balance. I had been working with all these nurses, saw what they did, they had more control over their lives and hours and I knew that was what I wanted to do. So, I started to look at options on how to pay for it.

I joined the Air Force as a medic. It was as close as I could get to nursing, without a license. I learned how to place IV's, how to give injections, administer other medications. My home base was Travis Air Force Base, in northern California, but I deployed to Germany two times. I was part of a medic ground team that met soldiers coming back from the desert. Our job was to either get them to the hospital for further treatment or transport them to our staging facility and get them transported back stateside within 24-48 hours.

Where did nursing school fit into the picture?

I was very lucky. Travis is the only air force base with a nurse training program on site. I knew nursing was my goal, so while I was in Germany I started completing some of my prerequisites on line. The military will pay for a certain number of courses completely while you are still active duty. Before I got out of the Air Force I applied to Travis, was accepted and a space was reserved for me. I started right after I finished serving.

What was it like finally being in the classroom?

The school is a very special situation. Everyone there is active duty, a reservist or retired, and everyone is or was a medic. It was a med tech/LVN-to-RN program. And, we got a year's credit for being medics. The whole program was designed for military/work life. It was sort of a hybrid. We did it in Core Weeks. For one week we were in class from 8 a.m-6 p.m. every day, and then we would have five weeks off. We had 12-hour clinicals every Sunday, and depending on the unit, we would sometimes have to go in on Saturday for an hour or two to prep for our patient the next day. During the five off weeks we would have papers, quizzes and exams online. Of course I had to work during this time too. I had a great employer who allowed me take the weeks that I needed off from my scrub tech job.

When you graduated, did you start looking for work in nursing?

I went straight into my RN-to-BSN program for a couple of reasons. I was still in school mode, there wasn't a big demand for new grads out here in California, and I knew it would only take nine more months. Besides the G.I. Bill was paying for my BSN just like it did my ADN.

What was the hardest part for you going to nursing school in this hybrid program?

I think the hardest part came during my ADN program. There was tons of information coming at me, and you had to take it all in, in one week. It was incredibly accelerated. You had to keep on track, read a lot, and study a lot since the pace was so fast. If you weren't paying attention, you were lost. Sometimes I wondered if I really understood it, or did I just scramble along because I had to?

Rangel is keeping that momentum going. He will be starting his Masters Degree in Health Care Systems Management next month through Loyola University. He says he knows down the road, after he's been a clinical nurse for a while, he will want to move on in his career, and it's easiest to just keep the school flow going. Of course, his whole program will be completed online.

Do you have any apprehension about starting work on your Master's?

Papers: 15-page papers. I'm barely good for seven. Other than that, I've done it. I can do it again. Mostly, there is a fear of the unknown. Online classes can be tough. You have to be VERY self-disciplined. There is no one telling you what to do, reminding you when work is due. It's all up to you.

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