Between two worlds: Guard and Reserve nurses perfect professional balancing act
Theresa Prince, a civilian nurse practitioner and Air National Guard assistant to the Air Force Nurse Corps chief, said that her two careers, while different, have provided her with valuable skills and experiences that help her as a nurse and leader (Courtesy photo from Theresa Prince)
National Guard and Reserve nurses who also serve as nurses in their civilian careers have a lot to manage: providing care during the week in civilian settings and then performing duties as officers in the United States military during weekend drills. They accomplish all this while balancing a life outside these dual careers. Working as nurses in both worlds simultaneously takes skill, dedication, and a lot of hard work.
Army, Navy, and Air Force Reserve, as well as the Air National Guard and Army National Guard, make up the military’s Reserve component nurse corps. Some citizen-soldiers, sailors, and airmen join to fulfill career goals; others join for the guidance, leadership, and professionalism of the military. All dedicate themselves not only to excel at what they do, but also carry the patriotic spirit of serving their country.
“For sure, one of the best things I’ve done is joining the Reserve and Guard,” said Brig. Gen. Theresa Prince, a civilian nurse practitioner and Air National Guard assistant to the Air Force Nurse Corps chief. According to the Military Health System, more than 9,000 nurses serve in the Reserve and Guard components. “There are a lot of opportunities out there to excel and you just need to figure out what they are.”
Prince served four years on active duty before transitioning to the Air Force Reserve as a flight medic while also attending nursing school. After moving to South Carolina several years later, she switched to the Air National Guard and has continued to work as a nurse practitioner at the same civilian hospital for the past 21 years.
“Many Reserve nurses work in highly skilled jobs throughout the week and then maintain a lot of those skills [in their reserve position], so they’re truly experts in both of their jobs,” said Prince. Unlike their active duty counterparts, Reserve and Guard nurses can often stay with the same unit for many years – if not their entire career.
Reserve and Guard nurses complete about 40 days of training and once-a-month drill weekends each year, and can be called to active duty status when needed. Although many Reserve positions demand a sizable chunk of time, finding a work-life balance and succeeding in both positions is possible and rewarding. Serving as a leader in the Air National Guard while also being a provider at an urgent care unit has helped Prince be a better nurse, she said.
“Being out there as a civilian provider has given me the ability to offer guidance on what’s going on in the civilian health care world and participate in planning sessions,” said Prince, adding that the leadership role has exposed her to parts of the Air Force that she hadn’t previously experienced. “The education and professionalism the Reserve offers is amazing.”
Lt. Col. Katrina Lloyd, a civilian nurse practitioner and deputy state surgeon for the Louisiana Army National Guard, said serving in the military for the past 30 years has given her a higher sense of purpose.
“It’s rewarding to see that most times what we do has an immediate, profound, and positive effect on the soldier and his or her forward progression in the military and in life,” said Lloyd, who served as a combat medic for 11 years before entering the Army Nurse Corps and National Guard.
In civilian life, she serves on the faculty for Northwestern State University’s School of Nursing, and works as a provider at an urgent care facility.
“Soldiers and patients will be taken care of to the best of our abilities regardless of the environment,” said Lloyd. “But it doesn’t get any better than doing it in a military uniform because we are responsible for protecting the lives of the warfighter.”
For those considering joining one of the Guard or Reserve components, flexibility is key, said Lloyd. Spending time away from a civilian clinical setting has been challenging, but the overall support and understanding of her civilian counterparts helped make it possible, she said.
“Truly, to know that I’m wearing the uniform and feel as though I contributed something along the way has been really rewarding,” said Prince. “I’ve been deployed several times and I’ve been able to do my part, as I think everybody should, to support our country and our troops.”