For Barbara Reed ’12, you could say nursing is a bit of a second career. She got her start in health care as a surgical technician for the U.S. Army during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Reed, a graduate of the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) College of Nursing, joined the Army at age 18 and began training to be a surgical technician. Though she already had an associate’s degree under her belt and later, a bachelor’s degree in communication, Army medical training is when school finally made sense.

“It’s like a light bulb went on. I really enjoyed learning about the body and anatomy,” Reed said. “As I did cadaver labs and learned about different organs, all of a sudden I went from being nonchalant about school to loving everything I learned.”

As a surgical technician, Reed was one of only a few individuals – aside from the surgeon – who could touch the patients during procedures. She was trained to handle instruments, set up sterile fields, retract and hold organs.

During Operation Enduring Freedom, Reed was mobilized to Fort Campbell in Kentucky to fill positions of soldiers deployed overseas. Not only did she fill their positions, but she also helped prepare soldiers for deployment by administering vaccinations and holding health clinics. Her mission also included surgeries and care of wounded soldiers returning home.

According to Reed, prior to Operation Enduring Freedom, most treatment was given overseas, and it would be several months before soldiers were reunited with their families.

“Now, lifesaving procedures are performed immediately and, once stable, the soldiers return to their home base for recovery,” Reed said. “We found that by going through the recovery process with their families, soldiers were making a much faster recovery.”

To advance her medical career, Reed decided nursing would open more options for her. While a surgical technician is limited to the operating room, a nurse can choose from the operating or emergency room, intensive care unit (ICU), labor and delivery, or beyond the hospital in home health, hospice or medical missions. She began prerequisites for nursing school almost immediately after her Army commitment.

Although Reed already had extensive medical experience, the most surprising thing for her was caring for conscious patients.

In nursing school, students are taught how to interact with patients, as an essential part of the healing process is for patients and families to trust their doctors and understand their medical status. As a nurse, she looks forward to being that connection for the patients in order to improve their experience.

“No matter your educational background, the hardest and most important part is getting that information boiled down into a message that anyone can use immediately to improve their own life,” Reed said.

Recently hired as an ICU nurse in Bryan-College Station, Reed says her goal is not to simply treat patients in the hospital but also to teach them how to improve their health over time.

And, Reed‘s story shows that it’s never too late for veterans to enter the health professions. TAMHSC veterans affairs services assists students attending the institution using education benefits under the Department of Veterans Affairs Educational Assistance Programs in pursuit of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.

For more information, visit www.tamhsc.edu/education/veterans or call (979) 436-0181.

— Blair Williamson