Same nursing cohort, different paths for graduating student veterans

by | Dec 20, 2015

College of Nursing students Dan Szyman and Allie Hearn are two of 58 military veterans graduating from UMSL this semester.
Nursing graduates Allie Hearn and Dan Szyman

College of Nursing students Dan Szyman and Allie Hearn are two of 58 military veterans graduating from UMSL this semester. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Dan Szyman is a combat medic in the U.S. Army, and Allie Hearn is a Navy veteran. The two University of Missouri–St. Louis students also have something else in common – they’re both about to become nurses at St. Louis hospitals.

A few days prior to celebrating their newly minted BSN degrees at commencement Dec. 19, the two paused to reflect on the culmination of their studies in UMSL’s College of Nursing and to discuss next steps. They had just one final exam left to go – the tail end of five semesters’ worth of effort alongside classmates that have in many cases become good friends.

“This is going to be an extended network that we’re going to have for the rest of our nursing career,” Szyman said of those with whom he’s spent so much time learning. “I’m confident this cohort is going to be some of the leaders in the nursing field in St. Louis for years to come.”

Hearn said the cohort “really got to know each other” and expressed some sadness with graduation looming.

“It’s kind of like another high school experience, because you are with each other for a long period of time,” she said. “It’ll be good, though. Now we’ll have nursing jobs and a less stressful life, so we can hang out more.”

Szyman and Hearn are also part of another unit at UMSL: the 58 student veterans who wrapped up a college or graduate-level degree at the university this fall. According to UMSL Veterans Center staff, that’s a record number looking back at December commencements over the last ten years.

For Hearn and Szyman, the shared experience of military service has enriched their time at UMSL in a variety of ways.

Three graduating student veterans

UMSL student veterans (from left) Dan Szyman, Allie Hearn and Keith Kettenbach are all members of the same graduating College of Nursing cohort. (Photo by Professor Roberta Lavin)

“One of the high points has been meeting those nurses that are teaching you, that are mentoring you, that have military experience, like Lanette Tanaka,” said Szyman, who enjoys working with patients in the VA St.  Louis Health Care System through which he received a scholarship. “She understands where you’re coming from, and you have that shared history.”

Both he and Hearn see some natural overlap between their military training and their pursuit of nursing – and particularly their shared interests in the ICU and ER areas of the field. Adrenaline is a factor, along with a desire to work on a wide variety of tasks.

“I’m not really content doing kind of a desk job,” said Hearn, who did shipboard navigation for the Navy and was deployed in Afghanistan for a year. “My dad’s a police officer, my mom’s a firefighter – they both have jobs where they do something every single day that’s different. Growing up I thought, ‘That’s amazing, that’s what I want to do.'”

“I think the ER is just a really good fit for [someone with a military background],” Szyman added. “You never know what’s going to come through that door next. You’ve gotta be ready.”

While Szyman embarks on his nursing career on the medical/surgery floor of the local VA hospital, Hearn will be in the ER at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where she’s already been working as a patient care tech the last few years.

“I did my preceptor shift in the ER and in the cardiac ICU there, so I got to kind of know what I was getting into before I got a job, and I kind of got my foot in the door, too,” she said. “I love the atmosphere at Children’s, and I feel like I get more out of working with kids than adults. I appreciate it more.”

As the two looked toward graduation last week, Szyman, a native of Hazelwood, Mo., noted that it would technically be his second time crossing a commencement stage on the UMSL campus.

“I actually graduated from high school in the gym here, so this will be my second time graduating here,” he said.

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill