Fueled by a Mission, Fired-up About Nursing

Not long ago, Joe Gale responded to life-threatening situations as an emergency medicine technician. Before that, he fought wildland fires in the Pacific Northwest. And today, he is a first-year student in the Generalist Entry Master’s, or GEM, program at Rush University’s College of Nursing.

Joe Gale’s career journey seems to have been guided by a simple philosophy: To go and serve where he could have the greatest direct impact. For Gale nursing offers the ideal opportunity to do just that.

Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, Gale never imagined he would live in a city, and certainly not one as flat as Chicago. But he was drawn to the Windy City by the College of Nursing and the GEM program, which is designed for those who already have bachelor’s degrees in other fields.

City living has exceeded Gale’s expectations, as have his experiences at Rush. We talked to Gale to learn more about him and his experiences, as well as his insights about the GEM program.

Tell us a little about your life before coming to Rush and how you decided to become a nurse.

I was born and raised in Colorado, and earned my bachelor of science degree in soil and crop sciences and a minor in organic agriculture from Colorado State University because I was looking for a hands-on career in the sciences.

For a few years after graduation, I worked in the agricultural sector, touching on everything from crop production to consulting and even agricultural research. It was during this time I decided I needed to make a change.

I started by earning certification to work as a wildland firefighter. I then took a leap and left my research job to get my emergency medicine technician-B (EMT-B) certification. Upon completing my EMT certification at the National Outdoor Leadership Schools Wilderness Medicine Institute I took a job as a wildland firefighter on the eastern boarder of Washington state.

I spent the season in one of the busiest districts for wildland fire in Washington, and throughout my time there I discovered I enjoyed the medical side of the job more than fighting fire. So, after the season ended I returned to Colorado, earned my certification in IV therapy and began a job as an emergency room technician, or ER tech. That job allowed me to continually use my skills as an EMT while getting a broader look at medicine.

Based on that experience, I decided I wanted to further delve into health care and become a nurse. So, I enrolled in a local community college to earn my prerequisites and started looking at nursing schools.

And what led you to Rush?

I started out with all program options on the table — an associate of science in nursing degree, a bachelor of science in nursing degree, a master of science in nursing degree. And I landed on the generalist entry master’s program because it offered me the most education and greatest value for my time. I had a bachelor’s degree, and I didn’t necessarily want to return to school to earn a second bachelor’s degree and then find, after five years of being in the industry, I needed to return to school again for a master’s degree.

Continuing with the upward progression of my education was important to me. I knew Rush had a prestigious program and would give me a great education as an RN, because I had heard great things about Rush from the nurses I worked with in the ER. And I knew that with Rush’s GEM program, I could work in whatever specialty I chose and that the stage would be set if I wanted to pursue an advanced practice degree down the line.

What do you like most about the GEM program?

One of the most enjoyable parts of my program is being able to connect the material you learn in the classroom to the conditions you see in your patients during clinical rotations. The learning material is very applicable, and you start to be able to connect the dots between theory and patient presentation within the first week. Seeing these connections is what drives me to fully immerse myself in the material and become a better nurse.

What is the one thing you know now that you didn’t know before starting the program?

I had an inclination of this, but nursing is a pretty dynamic field. As a result, nursing education is always changing. As a student you need to keep up on the latest advances and be a critical thinker at all times. As a GEM student, you are taught to never take anything at face value. Being adaptable is also important. You are there to observe, learn and adapt to every clinic and every different situation and clinician.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I see myself working in an emergency department or intensive care unit, where I can get experience as a registered nurse and eventually transition to advanced practice nursing or to a certified nurse anesthetist role. What’s so nice about nursing is that there are so many options.

Any advice for incoming students?

Time management is key in nursing school. There’s always something going on or an assignment due, and it doesn’t stop. This is true for academic assignments as well as your time during clinical assignments. Find a system that works well for you to stay on course.