Commander Valerie Morrison (D.B.A., 2013) joined the Navy Nurse Corps as an Officer Candidate in the Bachelor Degree Completion Program with a long range goal: obtaining her master’s degree.
"My father dropped out of school to enlist in the Army during WWII and my mom only had some technical schooling as a secretary after high school," shares Morrison, "but both of my parents were adamant that the five of us kids would go to college."
In 1991, Morrison completed her bachelor's degree and was commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy Nurse Corps. Eleven years later, she achieved her original goal, earning her Master of Science in Management from the Naval Postgraduate School.
While at school, Morrison had been inspired by a retired naval officer with a D.B.A. "He always brought examples from his consulting work with the City of Salinas to his policy course," she recalls. "He was the example of how I wanted to advance my education."
A year later, she attended an educational fair while working at Naval Hospital Jacksonville in Jacksonville, Fla., and knew NCU's online format would provide the flexibility she needed to obtain her doctorate. She enrolled in the D.B.A. in Management program and started her coursework in 2003. By 2009, she was working on her dissertation proposal when she was deployed to Kuwait.
Morrison was ready for it, but just four months later, her deployment ended abruptly and she returned to the States, her head swirling.
"It is difficult to explain how much mental preparation you make in order to deploy (leaving a then 2-year-old and 5-year-old with your husband and mother-in-law). Reintegration is a very real challenge for military families…including mine," she admits.
In fact, it seemed that her NCU coursework was the one constant in her life so she jumped back into it. Instead of progressing like she planned, however, she earned her first "U" grade, which led to an elongated leave of absence from NCU ("to get my head together").
Morrison returned to NCU in 2010, around the same time she was selected for a great career opportunity as the Executive Assistant to the Director of the Navy Nurse Corps—a two-star Admiral.
"Working for the top nurse in the Navy is an awesome thing, but it also required many hours and lots of travel," she says. "However, failure was not an option."
That commitment was tested again, when in late 2011, Morrison was diagnosed with a cancerous sinus tumor. While the surgery was a great success, precautionary radiation treatments packed a punch she wasn't expecting.
"Being a nurse, I thought I would end the radiation treatments, be tired for about two weeks, and go about my happy way, but I was tired! Luckily, I was able to take an extended time off from work and put 100 percent effort into my dissertation manuscript."
Morrison's determination paid off. She successfully defended her dissertation - Examining the Relationship between Workplace Stress and Intent to Leave of Navy Nurses - on March 27, 2013.
When the Director of the Navy Nurse Corps retired in August, Morrison continued to move forward, now serving as the Career Planner for new Director of the Navy Nurse Corps.
"One of the great things about my job is that I get to work on behalf of the roughly 6,000 active, Reserve, and federal civilian nurses who work for Navy Medicine worldwide," shares Morrison. "Every month, I travel up to Newport, RI, to Officer Development School, where I welcome the new ensigns. It's so motivating to be around the future leaders of the Navy Nurse Corps."
Morrison is also working to advance her professional standing through her research. "My abstract was accepted for a poster presentation at the Virginia Nurses Association Education Day in September. I also presented at a Joint Clinical Nurse Specialist Symposium in July, and have been asked to present to a Ph.D. Theories course at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in October," she reveals.
Additionally, Morrison is studying toward certification as a Nurse Executive (for higher level nursing professionals) and was selected to serve on the American Nurses Association Advisory Board for Nurse Fatigue (promoting health and safety for patients and nurses).
Despite everything on her plate, Morrison also volunteers as the Delegating Nurse as her kids' school, and enjoys being a full-time mom and spending time with her family.
So how does she do it all? "I have several calendars—my Outlook calendar, a desk calendar, a wall calendar on the fridge, a weekly calendar on the pantry door. I plan the year, the month, and the day," she laughs. "If I can do it; anyone can do it."
*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.