2020 Nursing Page Update

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On the Battlefield and in the ER: Nursing Graduate is Up for Any Challenge

Rhiannon Swartz with friends

Rhiannon Swartz ’20 pushes herself mentally and physically, all in the name of serving others. 

If you’re picking teams, you want Rhiannon Swartz ’20 on yours. On the battlefield or in the emergency room, she is the calm in the storm.

Swartz was a junior in the Nursing program at York College of Pennsylvania when she joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. She was a newly licensed nurse when she began her career in the Reading Hospital Emergency Department in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. And she was the first woman in the combat arms section of her military unit, and one of the few in state history, to become a Field Artillery Officer in Combat Arms last summer.

Challenges don’t scare her. They excite her. Resilient and dedicated, Swartz credits her professors at York College with teaching her a skill crucial to thriving in her chosen fields: adaptability.

Support on all fronts

Swartz grew up hearing her parents tell stories around the kitchen table. Her dad served in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard; her mom was a nurse. Following in both of their footsteps just felt right. “I feel the best when I’m of service to others, whether it’s nursing or military,” she says.

Joining the military during her junior year presented logistical challenges, but Swartz says all of her teachers were behind her. Her academic adviser, Nursing Laboratory Coordinator Patty Myers, helped her plan each semester and coordinate her college schedule with her military obligations.

“There was a group of people from the Nursing Department that truly made the process easier. I think that’s what makes York College what it is. It’s the people,” she says.

When COVID-19 forced classes to go remote in Swartz’s last semester, her professors made the transition as smooth as possible. She praises their professionalism in the face of adversity.

“I would say I learned my biggest lesson of adaptability then,” she says. “To just take the situation and make the best of it.”

Up to the challenge

Swartz didn’t want to just serve in the military. She wanted to become an officer. “I’m constantly looking for the next thing to challenge myself physically and mentally, and I found that through the Pennsylvania Guard,” she says. “Once I set my mind to something, I’m going to get it done.”

After finishing Officer Candidate School in August, she moved on to Field Artillery Basic Officer Leadership School in Oklahoma. Swartz sees a lot of similarities between that job and being an emergency department nurse. “Whether it’s advocating for your patient or advocating for your soldiers, the communication is very similar,” she says.

Juggling nursing and military obligations isn’t easy. Swartz typically is away for training once a month, and now she’s in Oklahoma for six months at Officer Candidate School. She’s learned to lean on her families—her Army family, college family, nursing family, and personal family—for support. “You can’t handle everything alone,” she says. “You have to be able to reach out to others.”

Putting it all together

Swartz’s dream job is to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. “I think that would bring together my military and nursing careers in one ultimate job,” she says.

As she continues in nursing and rises in the ranks of the military, she’s sure to face new challenges and obstacles, but she’s ready for them.

“There’s so much out there in the world, so many experiences,” Swartz says. “You have ‘X’ amount of time on this Earth. Don’t let fear stop you.”