Navy Looks Good on Me: Why I Chose to Set Sail As a Navy Nurse

29 09 2010

By Danielle Baldino, ’11

In May of 2009, I was proudly accepted into the Navy Nurse Corps Candidate Program. The moment was both an honorable and relieving one – what, with all the mountains of paperwork, gathering of letters of recommendation, extensive physical exam, etc. all with their own deadlines, I might as well have been taking an additional class.

On that day that I was “sworn in,” sitting in my parents’ living room, I looked around. What I saw was a moment to be frozen in my mind forever; not only had my hermit of a sister decided to venture out of her lair of social networking for this event, but also that my mom’s eyes, welling up with emotion, reflected exactly what I felt inside: pride, excitement, fear, but most of all – uncertainty. I was careening into unknown territory. I am the first person in my family to attend college, and the first in my immediate family to join the military.

 Since I am often asked “why,” I now present to you the top 5 reasons why I decided to join the Nurse Candidate Program (NCP)  (in order of priority):

  1. World travel
  2. Humanitarian relief efforts
  3. Earning/paying for my Master’s degree
  4. The pride and distinction.
  5. I look really, really good in dark blue & most earth tones.

As my graduation date of May 2011 closes in, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the past year and a half since being accepted. Nearly everyone I tell about the program had no idea it existed, and many older nurses wish they had known about it when they were my age. My favorite reaction when I tell someone I am “in the Navy” is the “wow, I never would have guessed you were the military type!” I love it because, hey, neither would I!

Maybe it’s the passionate convictions I hold, the long hippie hair, the yoga classes, the blogging…or maybe it’s just the way I seem to march to the beat of a different (vegan, feminist) drummer in general. I was the girl who snidely walked past the Army recruitment tables in the high school cafeteria with “can’t touch this” playing in my head; I was the girl who thought the military was the place personality (and education) went to die. I press for equality, for peace, for individuality.

 What could the armed forces possibly have to offer me?

 Nonetheless, I was bombarded with mailings, brochures, e-mails pleading for my attention, demanding my interest. It was shred, delete, shred, hamster cage lining for these materials until one day, a small booklet came. On the front, a nurse reaching over a patient’s bedside to hang an IV. At the bottom, a statement: “It’s not just a job, it’s a renewed sense of purpose.” This stopped me dead in my self-righteous tracks. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for, I thought to myself. This is just what I’ve always wanted my “career” as a nurse to be, a full personification of my own values and dedication.

Still skeptical, I sat down and flipped open the book, and there it was: The USNS Mercy, a massive hospital ship (it has its own laundry department!), forging ahead through the bluest, widest ocean I’d ever seen. My heart expanded, exploded in tune with that picture, that sea, that first quote. I read through the pamphlet for more details, and after hashing it over with my parents for a few weeks, sought out this area’s recruiting officer (who is in Boston, MA). Within a month, I met up with her for the first time at a Barnes & Noble Café, we set everything in motion, and the rest is history!

My purpose here today is to let nursing students at St. Joe’s know about this program, particularly the sophomores and juniors. The main requirements to begin the program are (1) to be officially “accepted” into the nursing program and (2) to have 2 years (or less) left until graduation. However, it’s never too soon to begin the application process, since it will most likely take a few months.

 A few FAQ’s:
How is the Navy Nurse Corps different from the “regular” Navy?
The major difference here is rank, which also makes the Nurse Candidate Program (NCP) more difficult to get into. It’s for this reason that I had to apply (“build a package”) rather than simply sign up (or enlist). You are also not in the reserve (“2 weekends a month, 2 weeks a year”); you have no obligation to the navy from the time you are accepted until you graduate. Since you will already have your Bachelor’s upon entering the Navy, you become an officer (rather than a medical corpsman, a lower rank).

A few FAQ’s:
How is the Navy Nurse Corps different from the “regular” Navy?
The major difference here is rank, which also makes the Nurse Candidate Program (NCP) more difficult to get into. It’s for this reason that I had to apply (“build a package”) rather than simply sign up (or enlist). You are also not in the reserve (“2 weekends a month, 2 weeks a year”); you have no obligation to the navy from the time you are accepted until you graduate. Since you will already have your Bachelor’s upon entering the Navy, you become an officer (rather than a medical corpsman, a lower rank).

How does it work?

1.     Starting ASAP, you build your package. This can take months, since besides all the Navy paperwork and applications, you will need to undergo a background check, probably need to make a doctor appointment or two, gather letters of recommendation, write up a resume, and organize a whole bunch of academic documents. Don’t worry – the recruiter is available through phone or e-mail all the time and has done this a million times before! They are so friendly, supportive and have a wealth of knowledge (I mean, after all, they are nurses).

2.     You participate in two telephone interviews with current Navy Nurse Lieutenants (not as bad as it sounds!).

3.     Once accepted, there is no obligation to the Navy while you are in school.

4.     You will receive an initial bonus of $10,000 (split up into 2 payments, one upon acceptance and the other after 6 months). You also receive a $1,000 monthly stipend (paid out in 2 checks roughly every 2 weeks) for the remainder of your college education – if you start right at the beginning of junior year, that’s a total of $34,000!

5.     At the beginning of Senior year Fall semester, you submit your top 3 Navy hospital stationing preferences – new nurses are typically placed at one of “the big three” hospitals: San Diego, CA, Bethesda, MD or Portsmouth, VA for at least the first year. You do have some say in where you get to be stationed, and you can even request to be with a friend through the Buddy Program.

6.     After graduation, you attend a 6-week ODS (Officer Development School) in Newport, RI. After graduating ODS, you come home for a little while until the end of summer, at which time you will ship out to wherever you are stationed.

What is my obligation to them once I graduate?
If you were in the NCP for 1 year or less (meaning you were accepted and receiving money for only the last year of your education), you are obligated to 4 years active duty. If you were in the NCP for 13 months – 2 years, you are obligated to 5 years active duty.

Besides my monthly stipend & bonus, do they pay for my tuition?
Technically, no. However, after graduation you can also look into the Navy’s tuition reimbursement program, where they can pay off your student loans up to a certain amount (depending on the budget that year). They will, however, pay for your Master’s degree in full (without you dedicating any additional years of service) should you decide to earn it while enlisted.

How do I get started?

Contact the recruiting officer for our area here:

495 Summer St
Boston, MA
800-792-9099

Or visit: http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/navmedmpte/accessions/Pages/NurseCandidateProgram_Prospective.aspx

Or feel free to e-mail me, dbaldino@sjc.edu with any questions!

In short, besides my father’s insistence on serenading me with the Village’s People’s “In the Navy” (and, occasionally – for some unexplicable reason – “YMCA”), I have never looked back or questioned my decision to join the Navy Nurse Corps. More than ever before, I am confident in myself and nearly jumping out of skin with anticipation at beginning my new life in less than 9 months. As I am watching other nursing students job hunt, attend career fairs and pine over hiring freezes, my only anxiety comes from counting the seconds until my new life can officially set sail… and if that’s not peaceful and fulfilling, than I don’t know what is.

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4 responses

10 11 2010
Roxane Fazeli-Taremi

Danielle Baldino,

Congratulations on your achievement! You and your family must be so proud! I also want to thank you for taking the time to tell your story. I hope one day to be telling a very similar one. I too have chosen the path of the Navy Nurse Candidate Program and I am currently applying to nursing schools. I have good grades, excellent letters of recommendation, but no volunteer work at this time. How important is volunteer work in the application process? And what do you think made you stand out against the other applications? Any information you can give is greatly appreciated as I am finding it difficult to receive real life experiences in regards to the application process. Thank you!

19 11 2010
guest

How long did it take to get accepted into the program? Did you get any waivers?

19 11 2010
guest

I forgot to ask, how many letters of recommendation and from whom?

22 11 2010
danielle

Hi,

they hold the selection committee 2 or 3 times a year so it all depends when you can get your application in… for example, I began my application in november in hopes that I could submit it by the time the committee met in May. If I had missed that, I could’ve made the next one a few months later.

As for gathering info & whatnot, I would leave yourself atleast 3 months or so to get everything together. I believe I got 3 letters of recommendation from a professor, a current boss & a close family friend who was an RN.

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