At a time in life when many of his friends are contemplating how to spend their retirement, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Byron Nash is ready to start his newest career as a nurse.
Nash, born on the island, returned to complete an accelerated program for his bachelor of science degree in nursing at UTMB. The program, known as BACC2, enables people with an undergraduate degree and the proper prerequisites to earn the B.S.N. in three intense semesters.
The married father of three daughters 24, 22, and 19, found his first career in Galveston. As a high school senior, he attended an air show with a friend at Scholes Field that defined his dream.
“We were on the flight line, almost close enough to sort of reach out and touch the planes,” Nash said. “At the end of the show, I told my buddy ‘that’s what I’m going to do.’ He said ‘yeah, right.’”
After a four-year ROTC program at Baylor University, he received his commission and his first assignment was as a missile control launch officer in Minot, N.D., where he met his wife, also an Air Force officer. He soon was selected for navigator training and spent time flying F4s, F111s and F18s in Spain, Germany and England, home base for missions during Desert Storm.
“That alters your perception of stress,” he said.
Along the way, he completed a master’s degree in public administration. After a 26-year career, he retired to San Antonio where he previously had been stationed.
He began work with a defense contractor but was restless. He went back to school and got another master’s degree; this time in industrial distribution. But something still was missing. He did some research and soul searching and realized “what I really like doing is taking care of people.
“Next thing I know, I’m applying to nursing school and my wife is looking at me like I’m crazy. Then I get the acceptance letter and she said ‘now what will you do?’ We talked about it and her request was ‘please don’t make me go hungry.’ I told her I’ll figure that out.”
He loved the look on his boss’ face when he told him.
“He said ‘you’re going to do what? Aren’t you a little old for nursing?’” Nash said. “How old is too old?”
He said the medical branch’s one-year program definitely is not for the faint of heart.
“When they say accelerated, they’re not kidding. Twenty hours a semester is pretty intense. You’re always reading, always studying.”
In addition to juggling two to three courses at a time, there also are clinical hours that must be fulfilled.
“Students need drive, dedication and discipline,” he said. “You have to be a self-starter, you have to be driven. There are times when it’s pretty overwhelming.”
Nash said he remembers looking at a 1,300-page textbook and thinking, “I have to read that in how many weeks? And remember it?”
Yet the intensity is necessary, he said. There are no shortcuts in the training because, at the end of the day, people’s lives are at stake. He’s in particular awe of his fellow students who are mothers of young children and wonders how they managed to accomplish it. He said while there might be generational differences, young people today sometimes get a bad rap.
“There are a lot of good, smart kids out there. They may have different viewpoints to what you hold near and dear but sometimes that’s a good thing. It causes you to re-evaluate what you’re doing.”
Nash, in a sense, embodies one of the medical branch’s core values — lifelong learning. His daughters were raised with the expectation they would go to college. He has a running joke with his eldest, now working on her master’s degree, on who will be the first to get a doctorate. His middle daughter is pursuing a nursing degree.
For now, he’s hoping to find work in San Antonio, the place his wife loves and where they have lived the longest. And he’s excited about where his nursing degree will take him.
“I was teasing one of my instructors — now that I’m doing this, I want to do it all.”
That might include working in the operating room, in pediatrics or for a life-flight program.
“The way I look at it is, let’s go for it. Let’s learn. At the same time, let’s take what we’ve learned and help others.
“That’s something I’ve noticed in the last year. I have not come across one nurse who has said, ‘you can’t go do that.’”