Navy Capt. Michele Kane is both nurse and doctor – and a lot more
Most people define military nurses as medical professionals who provide care to service members, retirees, and family members, at home and around the globe. But that definition doesn’t go far enough. One nurse, Navy Capt. Michele A. Kane, seems to have done it all. (Courtesy photo)
Most people define military nurses as medical professionals who provide care to service members, retirees, and family members, at home and around the globe. But that definition doesn’t go far enough. Some of the almost 10,000 active-duty nurses in the Military Health System are filling leadership roles in and out of hospitals. They’re also conducting scientific research in medicine and educating the next generation of health care workers.
One nurse, Navy Capt. Michele A. Kane, seems to have done it all. As deputy director, chief medical officer for High Reliability, Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, she’s leading the drive to foster a culture of safety and transparency.
Additionally, Kane chairs the Defense Health Agency’s High Reliability Coordination Board. The HRCB ensures the services work together to improve MHS services and overall health of MHS beneficiaries. Kane is the first nurse to serve as chair, and the only nurse among the 13-member board; the others are physicians.
Kane’s career is remarkable, even more so considering she wasn’t thinking about nursing when she enlisted more than 30 years ago.
“People say to me, ‘I want to be as successful as you’ve been. How did you do it?’ and I have to laugh,” Kane said. “There was no established career pathway for me.”
Instead, Kane said, a series of mentors shaped her career by encouraging her to reach the highest levels of education and leadership.
Kane wanted to be a dentist when she joined the Navy a few months after graduating from high school. Mainly, though, she wanted more out of life than her small hometown of Lineville, Alabama, could offer. The Navy Dental Corps was full, so Kane couldn’t start out as a dental tech. She became a hospital corpsman, responsible for physicals and medical folders at Naval Reserve Center in Montgomery, Alabama.
“In hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened to me in my naval career,” Kane said, because she was selected for the Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program.
Between her first assignment and current position, Kane earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master’s degree in nursing administration, and a doctoral degree in nursing science. She was the first Navy nurse to earn a Ph.D. from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. To date, 37 military and federal nurses have earned doctoral degrees since the program began in 2003.
“If I could share only one thing, it would be to take advantage of every opportunity you get for more education,” she said. “You just never know how you might use it one day.”
For example, when Kane was working on her master’s degree at George Mason University in Virginia, she was invited to complete part of her studies at Oxford University in England and studied the British national health care system. Almost 15 years later, Kane was serving as executive assistant to Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Robb, the first director of the Defense Health Agency. She was able to call on what she learned at Oxford during a meeting on Allied country medical partnerships with the British surgeon general.
Kane also has explored molecular genetics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., through a partnership with the National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Nursing Research. She has published in academic journals on topics including the toxic effects on the human body of embedded shrapnel fragments containing tungsten alloy. She’s won several research awards and grants and has also collected numerous military awards, including Navy Nurse of the Year 2001.
Kane was a key player in executing Project SERVE (or Student’s Education Related to the Veteran Experience), which teaches nursing students how to care for wounded warriors returning to their local communities. The program was developed under then-First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative, which asked all Americans to support service members, veterans, and their families. Project SERVE is an agreement among Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and Alabama’s Auburn University and Auburn University at Montgomery, where Kane earned her undergraduate degree.
Kane remains involved at Auburn. She established an endowed professorship in nursing and serves on the research advisory board.
Kane said she understands how hands-on nursing is preferred over a leadership role when nurses must decide between the two. “If you love clinical nursing, then you should stick with it,” she said. “Do what you love to do.”
She urges her fellow nurses to not be timid about exploring nontraditional opportunities. “You never know how they’ll lead you into future roles,” she said, “or open doors to areas that previously were not offered to us.”