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Former combat medic plans nursing career to continue helping those in need

By Andrew Goodell | Emory Report | May 9, 2018

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While serving in the U.S. Army in Egypt, Aaron Montgomery worked as a combat medic in a Level II trauma center. The experience inspired him to enter nursing school to be able to provide care for those in need. Emory Photo/Video

While serving in the U.S. Army in Egypt, Aaron Montgomery worked as a combat medic in a Level II trauma center — assisting in the treatment of wounds, musculoskeletal injuries, hemorrhages, and suturing for nearly 1,000 patients from 13 countries. The experience inspired him to seek a career in nursing so that he could continue making a difference in people’s lives.

Montgomery came to Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in 2016 and will graduate May 14 with his bachelor’s of science in nursing. A Dean’s scholar, he has worked to be at the top of his class over his two years in the BSN program.

He is also a Building Nursing’s Diverse Leadership at Emory (BUNDLE) scholar. The program develops promising nurse leaders from underrepresented groups to provide culturally-relevant care to an increasingly diverse population.

Montgomery was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau, the international honor society for nursing.  Membership in this organization is by invitation only and is based on the candidate’s contributions to nursing research and to promoting excellence in local, national and global nursing leadership. In addition, he is a part of the Emory 100 Senior Honorary and is currently holds office as parliamentarian for the Emory Black Nurses Association.

With Commencement nearing, Montgomery took time to discuss what drew him to nursing school and his plans for the future.

How did your military service help influence your decision to go into nursing?

My experience in Egypt is the reason I am in nursing school today. During my time there, I worked in a clinic where resources were limited. We went without essential supplies, and a lot of what we did have was expired or non-functional.

In addition, we were limited on staff. I had to learn how to think creatively and make use of what I had. Because I was in the military, I was able to do skills and procedures that I wouldn’t get to in the civilian world, so I became very independent.

Many of the soldiers I took care of didn’t speak English, and some had never been in a formal health care facility. However, every one of them was so thankful for the care I provided, and I truly felt that I was making a difference. 

As my time there progressed, I learned more about my patients and the aspects of their lives that negatively affected their health. Additionally, I learned just how important prevention of disease was. After those nine months, I returned back to the States knowing that I could truly make my mark as a nurse. There is nothing else I can see myself doing.

Do you have a faculty mentor who really changed your perspective on nursing?

The Emory faculty are experts in their fields. They have access to numerous resources that they expose students to. That’s a big part of what distinguishes Emory from other schools. Many professors continue to work clinically, so they bring knowledge of current practices to the classroom.

Angela Amar, the previous associate dean for undergraduate studies, was the faculty member who had the greatest impact on me. She created the BUNDLE program that I have been a part of, so I was able to work closely with her. She challenged me to set high goals for myself and see opportunities within nursing that are non-traditional. She continues to serve as my mentor and I thank her for pushing me to further my education.

What was the most rewarding part of nursing school?

The most rewarding part of nursing school is occurring right now. In the past few weeks I have enjoyed dinner with Dean [Linda] McCauley, attended the annual scholarship reception and participated in the BUNDLE yearly ceremony. Nursing school was hard. Very hard. And now I see that all the hard work has been worth it. It’s been great to hear of my classmates getting their first jobs and starting their nursing journey.

With graduation nearing, I’m starting to reflect back on these last few years. My clinical experiences were my favorite part of nursing school and I’ve created memories that will remain with me for life. Most of all, I’m excited to have my mom here in Atlanta to see me graduate. I want to make her proud.

What do you enjoy most about representing the School of Nursing as a student ambassador?

My favorite part of being a student ambassador is getting to interact with future nursing students. I get to participate in various events such as admitted and prospective students’ days. I’m thankful that I was able to attend Emory and student ambassadors gives me a way to give back and share my experiences.

I enjoy answering questions from anxious students and helping put their fears at ease. In addition, I get to interact with faculty outside of the classroom setting which has provided me with a greater understanding of who they are. 

What does being a BUNDLE scholar mean to you?

Being a BUNDLE scholar has provided me with extra support throughout my time at Emory. I’ve had the opportunity to work with public health leaders in the community, and overall do some cool things, like provide medical coverage for the Georgia Publix Marathon.  

The best part of my experience was getting to work with other minorities within the field of nursing. I want to see more men and people of color go into the field, and I feel that the BUNDLE program supports those efforts. 

What are your plans after graduation?

I will be returning to Emory in the fall to begin the Family Nurse Practitioner program. I have a passion for primary care, so I want to continue my education to be able to be able to care for my patients in a different way. My ultimate goal is to provide care to minority populations that have limited access to health care.