— by COL (Ret.) C. J. Moore, AN
When COL Jean Dailey retired recently, I asked her to tell our readers about her career in the Army Nurse Corps. The first person narrative is in her words.
How did I choose Army nursing as a career?
Growing up in a small rural community, I realized that I wanted a career/profession to ensure I would always have a job and be self-sufficient. I belonged to the Future Nurses’ Club in high school and spent time as a Candy Striper at the local community hospital. The hospital had about twenty beds and was (and still is) the only health care facility in the entire county. I had no concerns [scholastically] that I would … [be] accepted into a baccalaureate program, but I did have concerns about how I would pay for my education. I never thought about Army nursing until I was a senior in high school when I read an article in a teen magazine about a nursing program that paid all four years of college. There were pictures of students studying in the “nursing dorm,” aka Delano Hall, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The article caught my interest, so I decided to submit an application for the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing (WRAIN) program. I received my acceptance letter to South Dakota State University in the early spring of my senior year, but it was not until early June that I was notified I had been accepted to WRAIN. Joining the military in general in 1971 was not the most popular choice due to [the] Vietnam [War], but the conflict was winding down and the draft had ended. I was excited to know that I would complete my nursing education with a Baccalaureate of Science in Nursing from the University of Maryland School of Nursing and that I would have an experience I never imagined!
What are some important events/memories from my work as a junior officer?
Upon graduation, I was commissioned a First Lieutenant, as were all my WRAIN classmates. We stayed 1LTs for two years and then promoted to Captain. My initial awakening as a junior officer came when I reported to my first duty assignment, a 40-bed all-female ward at Irwin Army Hospital, Fort Riley, Kansas. When I walked up and introduced myself to the Head Nurse, the first thing she said was, “You are the Assistant Head Nurse.” What a wake-up call that was for me! My first position as a nurse, right out of college, just passed my state nursing boards, completed six weeks of Officer Basic and now the assistant head nurse! The position was attained due to the fact that there were only two Army Nurse Corps officers assigned to the ward. In my first three years as a junior officer Army Nurse, I was a staff nurse, assistant head nurse, nursery nurse, and evening/night supervisor.
What are some important events/memories from my work as a field grade officer?
When I came back to active duty in 1991 after thirteen years in the reserve, I was a senior Major. I was an unknown to the active duty Army Nurse Corps leaders. I did not have my masters’ degree and was enrolled in the Advanced Course (at that time it was a six-part correspondence program and took three years to complete), so I was already way behind the power curve and not competitive with my AD peer group. Once I arrived in Hawaii, I was able to transfer my enrollment and attended evening classes at the local reserve center. I spent every three-day weekend in class for two years, a two-week summer session, and one last phase by correspondence to complete. At the same time I was enrolled in the Masters in Nursing Administration program at the University of Hawaii. I was passed over for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel my first look; however, by the time the second board met, I had completed both the Advanced Course and had my MSN. With my Officer Record Brief updated and Officer Evaluation Reports that documented my work performance, I was promoted!
Not long after I was promoted to LTC, I was reassigned to Brooke Army Medical Center as an evening/night supervisor … Nursing leadership recognized my skills and soon I became Ambulatory Nursing Section Chief. I took every opportunity to learn from the more senior section chiefs. They were clinical subject matter experts and took very good care of their officers. They knew the strengths and weaknesses of all their staff.
Although I held positions that allowed me to understand the bigger picture and were away from bedside nursing, my most rewarding positions were primarily inpatient (Clinical Nurse Officer In Charge, Section Chief, Chief Nursing Service, and Deputy Commander for Nursing). As a CNOIC and Section Chief, my daily routine consisted of rounding on all my areas right after morning report. Unbeknownst to me, I was known for asking “twenty questions.” If I didn’t have all the answers from my morning rounds, by my-end of-day rounds, I usually had all my questions answered. The more visible I was to staff, the more visible they were to me. As positions of increased responsibility came about, it became more difficult to round, but the twenty questions continued.
My professional goal was to become a Deputy Commander for Nursing. I admired those who came before me and felt their passion for caring for patients and their families. I never saw an assignment as “just a job.”
I also had personal goal to max my Army Physical Fitness Test. To the very end of my career, I never once missed an APFT and scored just under 300 less than five times, usually missing by one or two sit-ups.
The [most] memorable events [for me] are when a former staff member, patient, or family member stops me and reminds me of something I may have said or done that had positive impact in their life. I may not have remembered the event, but they did.
What last thoughts do I have about the 40+ years involved in Army nursing?
After spending thirteen years in the reserve and working at a number of civilian institutions, I felt something was missing in my career. I did not experience the same level of growth and mentorship found inherent in Army Nursing. I honestly cannot remember ever getting a civilian performance appraisal. I saw colleagues at the same job for years and years and no opportunity for upward mobility in the organization. My Army leaders saw potential and afforded me challenges and opportunities I would never have had if I had not returned to active duty. I am so proud to say I am not only a Nurse, but also an Army Nurse.