From Field Medic to Nursing Grad: Navy Veteran Uses Medical Experience to Earn BSN
After serving eight years in the U.S. Navy, Dennis Holzinger ’19 was honorably discharged in 2013 with years of medical experience under his belt. Over the past six years, he has applied that experience and knowledge to academic studies and was part of the second class to graduate from University of Findlay’s Nursing Program.
At the University of Findlay, students gain an education that compliments their interests, passions, and previous life experience. Students start their programs at a variety of different stages in their lives, with a plethora of past experiences. The campus community creates an environment that allows students to build upon these past experiences and apply them toward their chosen degree so they can have meaningful lives and productive careers.
Eight Years of Military Experience
Holzinger enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school, following in the footsteps of his father, a retired Navy Chief who served for 21 years, and his grandfather, who served in World War II. After completing boot camp, Holzinger qualified as a Navy Hospital Corpsman, an enlisted medical specialist and served in a U.S. Marine Corps unit. He knew by choosing this position that he would learn medical skills and gain experience, which would be applicable in the civilian medical field as well.
The process of becoming a Corpsman included a 4-month Corpsman “A” school where he went through medical training, followed by tactical combat casualty care training at Fleet Marine Force school in Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. After completing his training in 2006, he was stationed in the emergency room at Balboa Hospital in San Diego, California. Holzinger was then attached to the 2nd Marines, 5th Division Weapons Platoon and deployed in 2007 to Al Anbar province (Ramadi), Iraq, on a 9-month deployment. Once returned, he was reassigned to Okinawa, Japan, where he was attached to a 2nd Marine unit and worked at the Camp Schwab base clinic awaiting another deployment. Then in 2009, Holzinger was redeployed with 2nd Marines, 3rd Division Combat Engineers platoon to Helmand province (Nowzad), Afghanistan for an additional 9 months.
As a Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Corpsman, Holzinger quickly earned the name “Doc” from his fellow comrades. His deployments consisted of patrols and boots-on-ground combat alongside his Marines. He was responsible for caring for all medical needs; from life-threatening wounds to wellness checks, “Doc” is who the Marines go to for immediate care. Additionally, he was responsible for providing medical care to local civilians and even the combatants. In one moment, the platoon could be in a gun fight with the enemy, and in the next Holzinger is providing medical care to that same enemy. As part of the Geneva Convention, military medics are required to advocate for all patients, which is something Holzinger said translates to the field of nursing. “Nurses advocate for their patients, and I learned that concept in the Navy,” he said. “No matter who my patient was, I needed to advocate for their care.”
Returning from overseas in 2010, Holzinger was transferred to Beaufort, South Carolina, where he was Lead Petty Officer (LPO) of the 1st battalion aid station and crucible aid station at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. As the LPO, 14 junior sailors reported to him, and together they treated over 250 Marine recruit patients daily, with a medical responsibility for 1,400 recruits during their training cycle. They would conduct the exams and treatment plans at the clinic and a physician would approve their work.
Adapting Military Medical Experience to a BSN
After an honorable discharge from the Navy in 2013, Holzinger and his family relocated to Minnesota where he began pursuing prerequisite work for a nursing degree at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. When his wife, who works at Marathon Petroleum Corporation, accepted a transfer to Findlay, Holzinger knew he wanted to continue the pursuit of his bachelor’s degree in nursing. When he began researching Findlay and speaking to the Nursing Program faculty and admissions counselors, he learned that the program was new and could help play an integral part in its growth.
As a father of two whose wife often traveled for work, it was important for him to be part of a flexible program with understanding faculty. Looking back on his experience, Holzinger said while the program was academically challenging, he was impressed by the approachable faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, and a campus community that simply felt like home. He remembers struggling during a mathematics course and his professor not only working with him one-on-one, but being open, fun, and willing to help. “I found this academic environment to be very impressive,” he said. “It creates a culture of belonging amongst the students in the program.”
The transition from being a medic in the military to nursing student was one that presented challenges. While he had no problem with the actual medical skills, Holzinger said it was an adjustment to get back into the academic mindset. “I had a disconnect when it came to testing,” Holzinger said. “I had all the experience and I know what works, but that’s not what the book may say.” Simply adjusting from an orderly military mindset, where everyone had their role, to a civilian mindset took time as well. “When you’re in the military, everyone has their own lane on the highway,” he said. “As a civilian, everyone is everywhere and you’re still trying to find your lane.”
Still he said his military experience academically benefitted him in many ways. “That experience allows me to feel at home in any situation,” he said. “I have the ability to become part of a team quickly.” This confidence allowed him to jump into the clinical setting with no hesitation. During the clinical experience he was able to learn about new things he hadn’t experienced before. While in the military, his primary focus was stabilization care, and he never got to perform respite care. Seeing the patient getting better over time was something he said he enjoyed experiencing during his clinical rotations.
After graduating, he initially accepted a position at Blanchard Valley Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit. However, his wife was recently transferred to Marathon’s regional office in San Antonio, Texas, so the family relocated. Holzinger said his family is getting settled and he is successfully pursuing nursing opportunities.
For more information about Military Support Services at Findlay, please visit www.findlay.edu/admissions/military-services. Learn more about Findlay’s Nursing Program at www.findlay.edu/health-professions/nursing.
The University of Findlay will host its annual Veterans Day observance on Nov. 11 at 4 p.m. at the Center for Student Life’s Veterans Honor Wall. The observance is open to the public.