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Clinical Nurse Specialist program exposes Navy officer to another side of medicine

Brandon Sartain

Although Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Sartain serves as a full-time military officer in the U.S. Navy, his singular duty, he says, is to earn a master’s degree that will help him formulate military health care policy.

Today, he’s halfway to his goal of earning an advanced-practice degree at York College of Pennsylvania to become an Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist in the military.

His experience so far has exposed him to a different approach to medicine.

“For me, it’s all new, actually seeing another side of this,” he says. “It’s interesting to see how civilians work compared to the military. So, when I go back, maybe I can bring something new with me.”

Valuing education

Brandon’s decision years ago to pursue a nursing degree arose from his desire to advance in the military.

“I wanted to be an officer,” he says, “and this was one of the routes.”

Since graduating from high school in 1995, education has been a driving force in Brandon’s life. He holds two bachelor’s degrees, including a psychology diploma that he earned before entering the military in 2001. In 2008, while in the Navy, he earned a nursing degree and later took the exam to be certified as a Registered Nurse.

York College’s CNS program is a three-year course of study, but the Navy allows only two years for personnel to earn the degree. So, the college tailored its curriculum to two years of full-time studies for Brandon. He has just completed the first year.

Serving in a number of settings

The work of an Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist “is along the lines of a nurse practitioner,” Brandon says. “It’s a degree with more of an educational background. With the degree, I can work in policymaking, reviewing policy with the adult-gero population.”

Adult-gerontology serves patients ranging from 17 to geriatric age.

“I will probably be more in the policy management side of things rather than bedside nursing, even though what I do will affect bedside nursing,” he says.

He has served in a number of health care settings in the Navy.

“Most of my career has been in the medical field. I did a lot of my time as a Navy corpsman, which is a medic in an intensive care unit,” he says. He also has worked in surgical recovery units.

‘An amazing program’

As a full-time graduate student on an accelerated path, his course load is rigorous – something his military discipline has helped him face.

“They work you at a certain level,” he says of the Navy. “Comparatively speaking, it gets you prepared where you’re not surprised at how stressful the workload can be in a full-time educational program.”

The Navy covers his tuition and college costs.

“It’s an amazing program,” he says. “I am active-duty. They pay me just to go to school. That is my full-time job, education.”

Two to four days a week, Brandon commutes to York College from his home in Kensington, Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C. He is based at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

“York was on the top of my list because it is close to the D.C. area,” he says. It also was one of the few schools that offer the Clinical Nurse Specialist master’s degree.

“CNS degrees are getting hard to find,” he says. “To find full-time CNS programs is nearly impossible.”

What’s ahead

Next fall, his studies will include even more hours at the hospital.

“When I graduate as a clinical nurse specialist, I’ll go back to work at a Navy facility,” he says. “They will utilize me in that capacity for at least a year or two. I probably will hit the ground reviewing hospital policies.”

He says he will address junior nurses’ questions about procedures and could find himself teaching nurses at patients’ bedsides.

In the meantime, while his military-approved focus for these two years is on his master’s studies, he doesn’t escape Navy regimentation.

“They still require me to do the biannual physical readiness test,” he notes. And he still undergoes military evaluations. “They keep an eye on me in other ways.”