Pilot Mountain, NC, a small town sitting at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is located about 4,200 miles from Landstuhl, Germany. Despite the distance between the city that is home to the America’s largest international military hospital and the rural community he calls home, Luke Merritt knew he wanted to be stationed in Germany during his time in the Army Nurse Corps’ Nurse Summer Training Program (NTSP).
The program allows ROTC nursing students to gain clinical experience in Army hospitals throughout the United States and Germany. The program is intended for rising seniors, and provides personal training in areas like medical-surgical wards, intensive care units and emergency departments.
Growing up on a cattle and horse farm, Merritt’s interest in the caring professions began while tending to his animals. His first experiences tending to the ill took place on pets and animals around the farm, leading Merritt to dream of becoming a veterinarian. However, he also wanted to join the long list of family members who served in the military.
“My dad’s dad was in Vietnam and my mom’s dad was in Korea, my great grandad was in World War I and we could go all the way back to the Revolutionary War—everybody’s served, so I was always set on doing something in the military and I was always set on doing something medical,” Merritt said with pride.
For Merritt, a degree in nursing offered the best of both worlds—an opportunity to work in the medical field while also serving his country. He received an Army ROTC scholarship and became known as a “unicorn” among the group—a term used to describe how rare it is to have a nursing cadet in the program.
After applying to NSTP and requesting Germany as his station, Merritt was selected to serve in the ER at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where soldiers wounded in Africa, eastern Europe, and the Middle East are sent. He spent the next four weeks working 12-14 hour days treating acute injuries, sick children and stabilizing patients with more serious conditions.
“I did everything. The military’s philosophy is you watch one, do one, teach one and that applied to everything from IVs, to hanging medications, to new admission assessments and discharges.”
These long hours in the ER gave Merritt hands-on experience he would not have been able to gain anywhere else as a nursing student. He says that the practice of fundamental skills, along with the relationships he developed while overseas, were the two most important things he received from the program. Merritt formed close bonds with a fellow cadet from Indiana that attended the program and with an injured Airforce member who had been stationed in the Middle East.
“It’s true for the Army and the military in general: you can literally meet people from all over the world that you know you can always depend on.”
Merritt says he found that same culture of support within both the ROTC and nursing programs at UNC Charlotte. Managing the demands of being a nursing student and ROTC member was challenging but peers, cadets, faculty and staff all supported his decision to be a “soldier first, nurse second.”
Merritt will graduate in December 2018 and hopes to be stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
by: Anna Henderson