Learning from a Military Nurse

There are very few people who can talk about NATO, nursing, and kimchi in the same conversation. Assistant teaching professor Debra Wing is one of them.

Wing’s passion for nursing started while she was young. That passion also runs in the family: one of Wing’s nursing professors at Weber State University was her older sister.

“I have always felt that nursing was paramount,” Wing says. “To me the one-on-one aspect that you give to your patient and the love and respect that you offer them is an opportunity to show them you are walking in the Savior’s shoes. You are truly His representative.”

Spotlight--DebraWingThe emphasis on providing care in the Savior’s way has served Wing immensely during her career.

Both Wing and her husband served in the U.S. Air Force as medical personnel. They have had joint assignments with NATO and with the Surgeon General of the Air National Guard office. “My husband is a hospital administrator, so he ran hospitals for the air force all over the world,” she says. “We’ve been able to see some fascinating things.” Her husband is a veteran of three wars, while Wing is a veteran of two.

“I’ve worked just about everywhere you can work in a hospital setting,” Wing says. Her list of assignments is almost as extensive as the list of countries that she and her husband have visited and lived in (42 between the two of them). These include being a charge nurse, a nurse manager, a chief nurse executive, and a school nurse. Additionally she served as the clinical oversite for EMEDS (Expeditionary Medical Support) training for the Air National Guard.

“EMEDS is the modern version of MASH. I had the responsibility to train physicians, nurses, techs, and dentists in wartime delivery of care in trauma,” Wing says. In fact this assignment was where Wing first became acquainted with simulation training, which she has used in her college positions at BYU since joining the faculty in 2010.

With these military assignments came travel. Of all the places the family lived, Turkey was a favorite. “My children will say that they’re half Turkish,” Wing jokes.

One of her most impactful experiences was in a Turkish airport when her then 3-year-old son was lost in a crowd. Having heard horror stories about Turkey, she feared for his safety. After two hours of searching, Wing’s husband found their son safe and sound with a Turkish security guard. A traveler had come across the wandering child and brought him to the guard, who did not speak English. While efforts were made to locate his parents, the guard calmed the weeping toddler by bringing him ice cream and attempting conversation, despite the language barrier. The tenderness of the moment altered Wing’s perception of the Turkish people forever. “That was a changing point for me,” she says.

Last year Wing and her husband returned from a military relations mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in South Korea. Back at BYU now, she teaches Community Health Nursing, Strategies for employment, and leads a clinical practicum for the Public and Global Health Nursing course in Finland/Czech Republic each spring.

“I love the students,” she says. “There is something so exciting about watching the students grow and progress, and things that were so difficult for them at the beginning of the nursing program are second nature by the time they get to capstone, and then to see them integrate everything they’ve learned in a capstone experience—I think that is my favorite.”

Wing and her husband have three children and three grandchildren, whom she describes as the joy of her life.

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