In Pursuit of the Complete Package

While Daniel Enger, BSN, RN, CNOR, had envisioned both a career in nursing and a career in the military, he saw them as two separate aspirations, not two jobs he could hold at one time. It didn’t dawn on him that he could package these professions together until he attended a job fair during his junior year in college and learned more about the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps.

Today, as a veteran and nurse, Enger plans to complement his existing professional tool kit by earning his master’s degree in health systems management at Rush University’s College of Health Sciences. Here, he discusses how his experiences prior to coming to Rush put him on his current path and what he hopes to achieve once he completes his degree.

How did you find your way into the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps?

When I was a senior in high school, I considered aerospace engineering. But after the space shuttle Columbia exploded and the resulting massive budget cuts at NASA, I realized I wanted a career with a little more security.

My parents were both nurses, and I knew that nursing offered lots of opportunities for different career tracks, such as clinical work, administration and research. I also considered the military because my uncle had served for more than 20 years.

While looking at colleges, I considered the Reserve Officer Training Corp program, but I realized it wasn’t for me. Then, while pursuing my bachelor’s degree in nursing at Mt. Mercy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I talked to Air Force representatives at a job fair. And it dawned on me that I could serve in the military as a nurse. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before!

I could fulfill my dream of doing both nursing and serving in the military. And after graduation, I joined the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps as a nursing officer and did that for about six and half years.

Tell us about your experiences in the military as a nurse.

I was first stationed in Dayton, Ohio, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and later Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. The Air Force paid for me to get my certification as an operating room nurse, and I worked as a nurse circulator and service line manager, coordinating with staff surgeons and scrub technicians — who prepare patients and operating rooms for surgeries — to ensure everyone had the proper equipment and supplies for procedures. In that job, I assisted the anesthesia team and acted as liaison with waiting room staff and families.

While I worked in a variety of specialty areas, I mostly worked among ear, nose and throat, or ENT, specialists. I also served a six-month tour in Afghanistan. It was right after the troop surge, and it was a high point in terms of casualties. It was all trauma, all the time. It was an eye-opening experience; everything happened so fast, but I took a lot away from it. It helped me develop my appreciation for team work.

What led you to Rush’s Health Systems Management Program?

In the Air Force I developed a strong interest in the administration and management of day-to-day activities in the operating room. So, after I finished my main stint in the Air Force, I started to look for programs that would help me achieve my ultimate goals of becoming director of perioperative services in a hospital and, eventually, chief nursing officer.

While I looked at many programs, I was drawn to Rush for several reasons. The teacher-practitioner model was a huge draw. To learn from those who are in the field is a big plus. Everything you learn in Rush classrooms is based on current practice situations.

You just completed your first year at Rush. What have you enjoyed so far?

One thing I really like so far is that students give a lot of presentations. I made presentations in the military, so I’m fairly comfortable with it. But I think the practice we get at Rush really sets us apart from other programs.

During the first year, we are matched up with different departments at Rush and work with them throughout the school year. I worked in the purchasing and supply chain department. Everything was pretty much new to me, so there was a big learning curve, but I got involved with a variety of projects and the staff was willing to work with me and patiently listen to my questions. And I had lots of questions!

I’m really looking forward to my summer internship at Vizient, which is a member organization that strives to improve health care in areas such as clinical, operational and supply chain performance. I’ll report to a Rush HSM graduate who has said this kind of job offers the chance to get close to the bedside without being at the bedside, so I’m pretty excited about it as I still want to have a role in patient care.

Where do you think you’ll go after you graduate?

I’m actually headed to DePaul next to get my MBA. One of the many advantages of serving in the military is the GI Bill, which covers my tuition. I figured I might as well make the most of it and get as much exposure to corporate finance as I can.