How a Student Veteran Turned Her Military Skills Into a Business in Nursing
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As a senior in high school, Tabitha Beck faced a big decision — whether to go to college after graduating.
“That wasn’t a difficult decision,” says Beck, who comes from a military family and who completed the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) as a high school student.
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She opted for the military.
She’s not alone. In 2021, 550,000 students participated in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) in high schools across the United States. Approximately 20% of all JROTC graduates go on to enlist in the military upon graduating.
“I didn’t want to go to college for several reasons,” Beck admits. “I wasn’t ready. I was scared. I had a lot of things I needed to prove to myself.”
Instead, Beck enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2000 when she was just 17. Serving in the military during the 9/11terrorist attacks was an “exciting but scary time.”
Though she wasn’t deployed as part of military operations in Afghanistan or Iraq, Beck felt a strong sense of contribution as a nuclear weapons defense specialist operating training environments for soldiers who faced the possibility of encountering nuclear weapons while deployed. Beck left the military in 2008, after eight years of service.
While being a nuclear weapons defense specialist taught her a lot, Beck had a strong passion for the medical field. Once she left the military at 25, she enrolled in college and decided to become a nurse.
Today, Beck is pursuing an online master of science family nurse practitioner degree at Western Governors University (WGU).
Read on to learn more about how a military background and identity as a student veteran advanced her career, how she decided to pursue an online degree, and what advice she has to share with students who are considering entering the nursing field.
Military Service Provides Transferable Skills in the Civilian Workforce
Once discharged from the military, Beck needed a job.
Beyond her interest in the topic, her decision to pursue nursing was informed by two key elements — in-demand jobs (along with their associated income potential) and passion.
Passion not only for the medical field but for her country. “I have a servant’s heart,” Beck explains. “I’m very patriotic — I love America, I love Americans. Once I discharged from the military, I needed that in my life.”
Beck asserts that nursing was a clear match for her service-oriented nature, allowing her to translate much of her leadership skills, self-confidence, and education from the military to the civilian world. For Beck, nursing is “about integrity, doing what’s best for the patient.”
Nursing also promised good earning potential and in-demand labor. “It was a hot field. It still is!” Beck suggests.
She’s not wrong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the nursing workforce is projected to grow 6% by 2031, adding an additional 195,400 positions for registered nurses (RNs) alone.
For nurse practitioners — the area in which Beck is specializing — the next decade is expected to produce 40% growth in available positions, according to the BLS. This is much higher than the projected growth rate of 8% for all occupations. Nurse practitioners earned a median annual salary of $120,680.
For Beck, becoming a family nurse practitioner also gave her the opportunity to start her own business.
As a result of her military experience, home healthcare companies now hire her to administer specialized wound care in home settings, allowing patients the opportunity to heal at home in their preferred environments instead of making frequent visits to doctor’s offices or hospitals.
Having specialized in this area for the last five years, Beck noticed a lack of providers with wound care as a primary focus. “It is so rewarding to take a patient who has no hope, facing debilitating surgeries or procedures, and to say, ‘Hey let’s try this at home first.’ Giving them a chance, that’s what I’m all about.”
Why Students May Consider Completing Their Degree Online
When Beck decided to pursue a graduate degree in nursing, she knew a traditional, in-person program wouldn’t be the way to go.
As both a working nurse and a mom, Beck searched for an option that would allow her to “attend class ‘after hours’ or on weekends, or early in the morning before my daily commitments begin.” Flexibility was key in her decision to enroll in an online degree. “Online was more convenient. Classes that were available on my time — at any time — was a driving factor.”
Though online education is thought to be specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, demand among students for more online degree programs continues to increase. That market shift away from traditional educational models means that there is more competition among online education providers, providing more options for students to choose from.
Beyond the convenience of building class time around personal and professional responsibilities, completing an online program may provide students with other perks.
Increasingly, online degree programs give students access to dedicated faculty who produce high-quality video recordings of course content. They also provide mentors to guide students in degree progression and career development.
Online programs may also provide alternative cost structures not predicated on credits or courses, allowing students to reach goals without spending more than what they’ve budgeted for their education.
One alternative cost structure is semester-based tuition plans that allow students to pay for the length of time it takes them to complete a degree.
In Beck’s case, that means she can determine how many courses she wants to take each term while paying a flat fee per semester regardless of the number of classes she takes. Doing so will let her “finish my degree paying much less than many other traditional school tuition rates.”
Why Students May Consider Joining the Military Before College
For those who have a strong sense of patriotism or who come from military families, joining the military before, or in lieu of, college may be a natural choice. Others may not even consider enlisting as an option.
Serving in the military provides students with several advantages. Beyond the allure of travel, serving in the military first may allow you to have your college degree paid for, helping to avoid thefinancial burden of student loans.
It also provides younger individuals the space and time to determine what they’re interested in and passionate about without having to explore that through an expensive monetary investment in a college degree. “The military is one of those programs that will teach you what you are and who you are,” Beck asserts. “It allows you a broad look at what all the options are as a civilian.”
Military service also provides the opportunity to discover whether someone’s interests are better suited for trade school. For Beck, this is most necessary. “People say you have to go to college. I call BS on that. Our [higher education] culture doesn’t do a good job of promoting trade.”
Doctor, Nurse, or Something in Between
While you may be certain you’re interested in studying a medical field, it may be less simple to decide whether to become a doctor or a nurse.
Beck suggests that recent changes to the medical field — at least in part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — are important for deciding. According to Beck, today’s healthcare culture in the United States “pairs nurses and doctors almost on the same level. Nurses have a lot of autonomy to advocate for patients” and work in close partnership with physicians.
Beck also advises that personal characteristics may be helpful in determining the right fit.
For individuals looking to provide patients with bedside treatment, nursing is the way to go. For those who are more analytical and enjoy problem-solving exercises, becoming a physician may be a better option.
For those looking for a combination of the two, becoming a nurse practitioner may be the best option, allowing you to combine diagnosing illnesses with providing personalized treatments for the best possible patient outcomes.
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Tabitha Beck is a graduate student of WGU in the family nurse practitioner program. She received the WGU Military Appreciation Scholarship. She is a proud United States Marine Corps veteran, an active leader in Scouts BSA Troop 220, and a mother to seven children. Currently, she is a community health nurse and operates her own business, providing in-home care to patients in the greater Kansas City area.