The Nurse Corps was always in the back of my head when I was going through college. I knew that I was going to have to continue taking out student loans if I continued along the “normal” route of nursing school, but I did not have enough knowledge about this alternative. I had looked into the program at my university, but I just never went through with it. My parents were also hesitant. Looking back, I wish I would have known more about the benefits and the actual program at hand! There are a lot of nurses out there who have questions about the Nurse Corps or didn’t even know it was an option! My sweet friend Vanessa Rendón-Cazarez was kind enough to answer some of the questions that I think many of you may have about the Nurse Corps! I realize that this route isn’t for everyone, but I wanted to share because it is something I wished I knew more about when I was going through school! 26,000$ of student debt later, I REALLY wish I had known more! I hope you guys enjoy!
Please share a little about who you are! Your nursing background, experience, and anything fun and interesting!
My name is Vanessa Rendón-Cazarez and I have been a baccalaureate prepared RN for a little over 8 years. I’m originally from San Antonio, TX, but have lived in San Diego, CA and Okinawa, Japan, while serving on active duty with the Navy. I have worked in several areas of nursing including Med-Surg/Telemetry, Adult ICU, Labor & Delivery, and Emergency Department.
I married my best friend in 2014 and am a mom to 3 “fur-babies.” We volunteer for a Diamond Dachshund Rescue of Texas, a non-profit rescue organization in south Texas. I enjoy traveling, hiking, SCUBA, curling up with a good book, and playing with my pups.
1. For the viewers who don’t know anything about the Nurse Corps, can you explain a little about the program and requirements of you?
Once accepted into a baccalaureate nursing program at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, I researched different ways to help fund my education. I signed up the Navy Nurse Corps via the Nurse Candidate Program (NCP). The entire process was an application to join the Navy including all the standard testing: height/weight, hearing tests, physical, and letters of recommendation. Once selected, a minimum of 3.0 GPA was required and transcripts were sent to my recruiter at the completion of every semester. This program was great and provided financial stability while enduring the demanding nursing program. The day of graduation I was commissioned as a United States Navy Ensign.
2. What made you choose the Norse Corps over a traditional Nursing program?
The NCP was essentially a scholarship program with stipulations to work as an active duty nurse, once complete with the BSN program at UTHSCSA. I was able to stay in my hometown and complete school.
3. Did you have any reservations or fear about what you would have to go through in the program?
I was slightly anxious about the unknown, about where they Navy would send me, if I’d make any friends, if I’d be a good nurse. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of going. I like adventures!
4. Was there any sort of “basic training” required for this program?
After graduation from UTHSCSA and commissioned as a naval officer, I was set up with a date to go to Officer Development School in Newport, Rhode Island. This “basic training” was 6 weeks long and only for the staff corps officers (nurses, doctors, lawyers, dentists) and consisted of Navy history, physical fitness, uniform instruction and rules of the Navy. Every morning was an early morning, we had 15 minutes to eat any meal, and I learned to shine shoes like no other! The friendships I made during those 6 weeks will be for life.
5. What are the some of the benefits of going through a Nurse Corps program over a traditional Nursing Program?
The NCP was a scholarship program that provided a monthly stipend for the entire duration of school, and 2 bonuses. The amount of the bonuses varied for the amount of active duty time you sign up for. I left my BSN with no student loans or debt and a secured job with great benefits. I wouldn’t change a thing.
6. Were your parents and family ever scared about you joining?
My parents and family were all for me joining the Navy. My father is a former-marine, step-dad former Navy, and several aunts, uncles, and cousins have served this great country. I am proud to say I am the only commissioned naval officer in my family!
7. What was a day in the life of “you” as a nurse for the Navy?
I was able to live off-base in an apartment in both San Diego and Okinawa and would drive to the hospital on base to work my 12-hour shift, then come home. Our schedules rotated and I would work 6 weeks on day shift, 6 weeks on night shift. We would have mandatory staff meetings and uniform inspections twice yearly. My life was very comparable to that of a civilian nurse, at least I think so.
8. What opportunities has this program opened up for you both personally and professionally?
Personally, this opportunity was great for me. I love to travel, try new foods, learn about other cultures, and the Navy certainly afforded me those opportunities. Okinawa, Japan was beautiful, the locals are so considerate and welcoming and the food was fantastic. I wish I could go back!
Professionally, I was able to gain proficiencies in many areas of the hospital, including Labor & Delivery, which was never on my radar. I was able to earn and maintain certifications in BLS, ACLS, PALS, NRP, and TNCC. The Navy also sent me to a few nursing conferences and completely funded the costs of travel, rental car, lodging, and the conference fee. Now that I am out of the Navy, I’m using my Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay for my BSN-DNP program, without the need for any loans. You can’t beat that!
9. What would you say to that nurse have second guesses about joining?
If you have even a teenie-tiny, inkling of desire to do something different, just go for it! You won’t know if you’d like the Navy, until you try it out.
10. If the is anything you’d want people to know about the nurse corps, what would it be?
It’s a great opportunity, for which I’m so thankful. I feel a sense of pride that only one who served, can feel. I served almost 6 years on active duty, which was time well spent. Ultimately, I decided to leave the Navy due to family reasons, otherwise I’d still be in!
I want to thank Vanessa and her courageous and beautiful service for our country! YOU are amazing girlfriend, and thank you for contributing to YourHearIsMine!!!!! I hope this serves as informative and encouraging to anyone reading this and contemplating this route! And thank you to EVERYONE reading who has served for our country!
Your Heart Is Mine,