Front Lines to the ER – Marine Veteran Choses Nursing at USF
Picture dirt roads, scrubby grass in the fields, palms trees, temperatures in the 80s, blue sky – sounds like a perfect Florida day, right? But that couldn’t be further from the truth for Matt Jenkins. It was September 2006 in Habbaniyah, Iraq and a turning point in the young Marine’s life. Assaultman Infantrymen specialize in rockets and demolitions. In other words, he was armed and ready for anything. Assigned to foot patrol out of the forward observation base, he and a buddy gambled on who would be the point man. A quick round of rock-paper-scissors, Matt lost and his buddy took the lead. Only 50 yards from base, his friend stepped on 155mm artillery rigged IED (improvised explosive device), and he couldn’t save him. That day, Matt’s life changed forever.
He had opportunities to assist corpsman while on deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. He earned his Combat Lifesaver Certification, but it wasn’t enough. He was determined to make a real difference, and help people. Matt knew he wanted to be in healthcare when got out of the military. With his background, he thought trauma or critical care. He explored the roles that men “traditionally” associate with healthcare: paramedic, physician assistant, and medical doctor. He found his true calling in an unexpected way, a profession that had more patient interaction, with job security, advancement and cross training opportunities, skill heavy but with a lot of critical thinking, and it didn’t take forever to complete. Matt discovered nursing.
Matt Jenkins not only discovered nursing, he discovered a home at the University of South Florida College of Nursing. Attacking his course work with gusto seemed natural for the Marine veteran, and just as natural was his decision to join the VA Nurse Academy clinical team at James A. Haley VA Hospital.
“I like being able to work with veterans, I have good rapport with the patients based on similar infantry and combat experiences,” said Matt Jenkins. “This is a way for me to give back for all the military/government has given me. Thanks to the education I received at the USF College of Nursing, I will graduate in May 2012, and I plan to stay on and work as a nurse at the VA Hospital [James. A. Haley].”
It hasn’t been easy, but Matt has taken advantage of everything the USF College of Nursing can offer. He went to Panama last summer for the Community Health International Clinical Experiences in Panama. The rural outreach provided by the USF Nursing team as part of this program is often the only healthcare that these populations receive all year. Matt was one of the first USF nursing students to participate as an Official Volunteer of the American Red Cross. With this official volunteer status, the USF Nursing team (4 faculty and 45 students) was able to transport approximately 400 lbs of much needed supplies to the only children’s orphanage in Panama, reaching over 200 children.
In addition, Matt was accepted into the VALOR program at the VA Hospital. The VA Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) is a program open to outstanding college nursing students who have completed their junior year. Through VALOR, they develop competency in clinical nursing by working at a VA health care facility.
“VALOR was a great opportunity I would suggest to anyone, put me way ahead of the game in real world job experience and education,” said Jenkins.