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CU Nursing student Kristen Gallagher

“I Didn’t Want to Be a Nurse”

Decades Later, Kristen Gallagher Can’t Imagine Working in a Different Career

Kristen Gallagher did not want to become a nurse.

She joined the Army Reserve in 1985 for two reasons: to get part of her student loans repaid from her first degree, and to learn how to fly.

Gallagher found out she was a half-inch too short to become a pilot. The Army told her instead of going to flight school – they were going to send her to medical school to become a doctor.

“I told them no, I’m an accountant,” she says. “I don’t like blood and guts.”

The Army then said they’d send her to forensics school.

“I said nope. Dead blood and guts aren’t any better.”

Then there was a third option – nursing school.

“I said ‘Thanks anyway, goodbye’. They told me it doesn’t work that way. I told them ‘As God is my witness, I’m going to fail out of nursing school every day so you realize I don’t want to become a nurse’.”

The Army sent her to nursing school anyway, and Gallagher graduated at the top of her class. She says she took her first job out of nursing school for job security, and now decades later, she can’t imagine having a different career.

“I still don’t really like blood, guts, or bedpans, but I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says. “I’ve worked in difficult settings – hospice, the ER, and critical care. What I found appealing about nursing is that you can help people in a chaotic situation. I can answer their questions and give them resources, so they don’t feel alone. I love being able to make people feel better in that way.”

Dedicated to Caring for Veterans

Gallagher is in the University of Colorado College of Nursing’s Master’s in Veterans and Military Health Care (VMHC) program.

She discovered caring for veterans was natural. Some of Gallagher’s family members are veterans and the camaraderie between veterans appealed to her. She wanted to enroll in the program because it’s the only one of its kind in the country and knew a program like this was needed.

“I didn’t realize until I got into the VMHC program how different healthcare in a military setting is compared to a civilian setting,” she says. “So many non-military physicians have no idea about the unique challenges or unique things veterans face. I felt like healthcare professionals in the VA needed more opportunity for education, particularly when they’re first starting out.”

“Our professors in the program are so well prepared for classes,” she adds. “They’ve lived a military and veteran life, and they’re not going to teach you things they don’t know about.”

“I didn’t realize until I got into the VMHC program how different healthcare in a military setting is compared to a civilian setting.” – Kristen Gallagher

Gallagher’s first nursing job was working as an LPN at a VA hospital in Delaware. Her career took her to different jobs outside the VA but knew she always wanted to return. In 2013, she went back to the VA, this time working in North Carolina, and she’s been there ever since.

Part of Gallagher’s work at the VA is studying Psychogenic Non-epileptic Seizures (PNES). She says the condition is common in veterans because a contributing factor to the seizures is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I worked in trauma critical care and I’m a veteran myself, but I didn’t know about this type of seizure,” she says. “I thought, ‘Okay, how can I take what I learned in my classes to move forward with what I’m doing now?’”

Gallagher hopes her work will be used nationally to allow nurses to get training on care so critical to veterans.

“When my retirement date rolls around, I can look back and say ‘I made a difference for this veteran and this veteran. Something I did made the VA better for a lot of veterans. One way to phrase it is – that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”

Topics: Students, Graduation