Reflections from a ROTC Nursing Student

A time of incredible excitement, transition, and challenges, the college years play an influential role in a student’s character development. For many, these years are also filled with worries about how to finance their education.

They may not know that some military programs can help. One such program is the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). In 1980, the ROTC began offering scholarships to college-level nursing students.1 The nurses awarded these scholarships are offered commissions as second lieutenants in return for 8 years of service in the U.S. military.2 ROTC scholarships have provided the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (ANC) with many baccalaureate-prepared nurse officers. This article tells about my personal experience in the ROTC.

Choosing my ROTC path

I was first introduced to the idea of ROTC my senior year of high school. My teacher’s daughter was participating in the program, and she was eager to inform me of its benefits. (See Assessing the benefits.) Once I began researching the program and applying for the national high school ROTC scholarship, I was contacted by enrolled cadets at my future university’s ROTC battalion. This battalion consists of all the military science professors and cadets involved within the Army ROTC program at my university and at surrounding universities. Overall, they were ready to answer any questions I had about the program. Although I wasn’t initially awarded a 4-year scholarship to attend my university, the battalion continued to contact and encourage me to enroll in ROTC. I first investigated joining the Army ROTC to fulfill a desire to become a nurse and to serve my country. Soon after accepting my contract, I discovered the competing demands of managing life as an ROTC cadet and a student pursuing a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN). Despite the challenges of meeting the expectations of both the Army ROTC and nursing school, involvement in the ROTC has allowed me to experience many benefits, including preparation for future leadership positions and nursing responsibilities. In the fall of my freshman year, the battalion assigned a fellow nursing student as a mentor to guide me into the program as I transitioned into college. This guidance enabled me to ease into the ROTC lifestyle, learn my role as an ROTC cadet, and eventually earn a 3-year ROTC scholarship.

Special training

The ANC allows new nurses to build a solid foundation in applied technical and clinical skills. According to the ANC, officers must be clinical experts.3 To ensure the development of this competency, Cadet Command sends nursing cadets to the Nurse Summer Training Program following their junior year of nursing school. During this training event, cadets work with a preceptor in an Army Medical Center to develop clinical skills through one-on-one training. I was sent to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I worked under a captain in the progressive care unit and adult ICU. During this experience, I had opportunities I’d never encountered in nursing school. From the very beginning, I learned how to administer medications and fluids through peripherally inserted central catheters. The nurses on my unit were all eager to teach, and they sought out opportunities for me to insert I.V. catheters, learn about obtaining arterial blood gas specimens, and participate in a real code situation. I left the facility feeling much more prepared to fulfill my future role as a clinical nurse.

Hurdles overcome

Major challenges I experienced included time management conflicts, a transformed personal identity, and a decrease in personal freedom. In regard to personal identity, the ROTC required me to shift from a very independent mindset to one focused primarily on team success. I was able to build a strong group identity with my fellow cadets, which allowed us to train and grow together as a unit. Individualism is still an important aspect of military leadership; however, it’s even more important to be able to recognize each team member’s individual strengths and use them for a common goal. My time in the ROTC has allowed me to better understand team dynamics, which will continue to strengthen me as a nurse. I’ve learned that I can’t succeed alone. Instead, a collaborative healthcare team must work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for patients. Throughout my time in the ROTC, I was surprised at the number of extracurricular activities offered by the program. The first event I participated in was Buddy Ranger Challenge. This involved training with a partner for  3 months, acquiring both soldier skills and greater athleticism. The final competition involved a 9-mile (14.5-km) march with a 45-lb (20.4-kg) rucksack, a large framed backpack used to carry personal equipment. It also consisted of timed soldier skills (such as knot tying, grenade tosses, and partner carries), and a 2-mile (3.2-km) run. This event tested my partner and me on our use of teamwork and one another’s strengths. It participated in another ROTC extracurricular activity known as Ranger Challenge. Similar to Buddy Ranger Challenge, it consisted of a team of six female cadets. Soldier skills acquired and required for this event included rope climbing, weapons assembly/disassembly, and casualty evacuation. The final competition included a 6-mile (9.7-km) march with a rucksack and a day of soldier skills and ended with an Army Physical Fitness Test. Participating in these different events introduced me to stress management, teamwork, and the development of mutual trust among team members. It also began to prepare me for combat situations.

Opportunities for growth

Overall, my greatest joy is the role I fill as a nursing student within my ROTC program. I’m often asked to use my nursing skills to teach younger cadets about such responsibilities as treating casualties or managing their own health. At training events, I’m called upon to assess and treat various injuries, such as dehydration, sprained ankles, and blistered feet. This makes me feel as if I have a purpose within the battalion to treat and care for my fellow cadets, and makes me eager to step into my role as a nurse. College provides opportunities for self- development, growth, and learning new skills. In the same semester I was learning how to insert and remove an I.V. catheter, I was also learning how to assemble and disassemble an M16; both skills require focus and attention to detail. I went from having few athletic skills to being able to run a half marathon, increasing my ability to manage 12 hours on my feet in clinical experiences. I also developed habits for a lifetime of fitness and better longterm health. Besides learning how to lead, delegate, and prioritize in the nursing curriculum, I was also learning how to lead soldiers and delegate tasks to noncommissioned officers. I soon became adept at juggling schedules for both clinical and field training, requiring flexibility from both my nursing faculty and military science instructors. All of these lessons and challenges have played a crucial role in my self-development. In May 2015, I graduated with not only my BSN but also a commission in the U.S. Army. After passing my NCLEX-RN, I attended the Army Medical Department Basic Officer Leader’s Course and then moved to my duty station at Joint Base LewisMcChord to serve as an active duty ANC second lieutenant. I enjoy the thrill of not knowing where life will take me while being confident in the skills that both the Army and nursing school have given me.


1. Feller CM, Moore CJ, eds. Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History; 1995. www. Pub_85-1.pdf.

2. Army Regulation 135-91. Service Obligations, Methods of Fulfi llment, Participation Requirements, and Enforcement of Procedures. Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army; 2005.

3. Funari TS, Ford K, Schoneboom BA. Leader development transformation in the Army Nurse Corps. US Army Med Dep J. 2011:24-30.

4. Army Regulation 145-1. Reserve Offi cers’ Training Corps. Senior Reserve Offi cers’ Training Program: Organization, Administration, and Training. Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army; 1996.

2nd Lieutenant Katherine Wilkerson is now serving as an active duty ANC second lieutenant at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash.