Air Force Nurse Juggling Master’s Program, Civilian Life
For Willamina Folks, striking a balance between her military and civilian life is second nature.
Folks is in the master’s program at the USF College of Nursing. She also works as a medical ICU nurse at Tampa General Hospital and continues to train in her role as a flight nurse in the Air Force Reserves.
When she’s not fulfilling any of her school, work or military duties, you can find her on the basketball court practicing with the Tampa Women’s League.
She said she knows she wears many hats, as many have commented about her hectic schedule. When pressed on how she gets it all done — shifting between civilian and military roles so effortlessly — she shrugs.
“Everybody’s like, ‘How do you do it?’ I’m working (at TGH), I’ve got my military, and I’m doing school. But I don’t even think about it. It’s fun. It’s interesting to me, and it all correlates. It just makes sense,” she said.
Folks has had experience juggling school with her military responsibilities.
In 2014, she was a member of the College of Nursing’s first V-CARE cohort, a program that provides an accelerated pathway for medics like her to earn credits with military medical training toward a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
After graduating from V-CARE in 2015, Folks continued in the Air Force Reserves. In August 2017, she returned to USF to start the master’s program in acute care and adult gerontology to become a nurse practitioner.
Folks said the support she experienced from the V-CARE program and from USF nursing professors gave her a strong reason to return to USF.
“With the undergraduate experience I had, the education that I received, as well as the preparation to become an RN, I knew USF would prepare me to be a great nurse practitioner as well,” she said.
Folks grew up in Tampa and was enrolled in the Junior ROTC program in high school. She said she always knew she would join the military, but delayed that decision until after college.
With a full athletic and academic scholarship, she enrolled at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla., where she played Division 2 college basketball and earned a biology degree.
After graduating from Florida Southern, she joined the Air Force Reserves. In that role, she trained and worked in the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron in health service management. While with the reserve unit, she served on the Armed Forces Women’s Basketball Team, an elite group recruited from all branches of the military.
In 2012, she returned from her first deployment at Travis Air Force Base in Calif. — where she worked alongside flight nurses and saw first-hand what they did — and decided nursing would be her path.
Folks said her ultimate goal is to become a nurse practitioner and continue to pursue her military career. In November, she was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserves. She is slated to graduate from USF in December 2019, and after that, she’s not putting any barriers on herself.
“The sky’s the limit,” she said. “Wherever I feel like God wants to take me, I’m just going to be open to it and make sure I’m prepared for the challenges that I’m going to face in the future. I know it’s not going to be easy.”
Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing