Mary Gaines grew up a “U.S. Marines daughter,” learning the value of a solid work ethic and that the military was always a great option for her. After high school, she decided to follow that path into the U.S. Air Force, where she worked in logistics. Along the way, she became interested in nursing. “I felt like nursing was a safe path and something I knew would hold my interest for many years,” she says. Mary earned the BSN at Mount Carmel College of Nursing in 2000 and worked as a civilian emergency room and trauma nurse.
A military career and an MBA along the way
In 2005, Mary went active duty, stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. She became an emergency room nurse and sexual assault nurse examiner. In 2011, she was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she continued working in the emergency room and as a health care integrator.
At the same time, Mary decided it was time for a new adventure—and she set her sights on leadership. The timing was right to earn a master’s degree, and she felt that an MBA in healthcare gave her the business background to supplement her military career. Mary researched programs and discovered American Sentinel University, a perfect fit. “I was looking for a military-friendly university that would allow me to fit school into my life,” says Mary, who was deployed to Afghanistan in mid-2012, in the middle of the MBA program. “When I’m deployed, it’s difficult to wake up at 3:00 in the morning to sit through a scheduled class. I considered a few other schools too, but none sounded as good.” Mary graduated in 2012 with the MBA healthcare.
The year 2013 brought Mary to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho, where she continued working as a sexual assault nurse examiner and as an urgent care flight commander. “I’m a healer by nature and I learned so much in the military and in my civilian roles,” she says. “I want to help people through the worst of times, which is what led me into the ER. If I can help someone heal, it gives me the greatest gratification.”
A new challenge
Toward the end of her time in Idaho, Mary was moved into disease management, which resulted in a deployment to Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey. “I was in Turkey without my family and felt I needed to do something for me during that time,” Mary says. “My leadership had noticed that I’m good at numbers and someone who can take raw data and make sense of it.” She was encouraged to consider a master’s degree program in informatics—and American Sentinel had recently received accreditation for its MSN nursing informatics program. In June 2017, Mary enrolled.
Now more than halfway through the MSN nursing informatics, Mary says she enjoys risk management and process improvement quality. “I would love to move into data analysis,” she says. “I often look at evidence-based practice and see how it plays into disease management, so I think there’s the opportunity to combine my experience and education to create my next steps.”
Shaping the big picture
In June 2018, Mary accepted a position as a disease manager at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida after completing her time in Turkey. She plans to graduate this fall with the MSN nursing informatics. In addition to the academic knowledge she has gained, Mary says she’s become more confident in her skills and how she can apply them to her profession.
“American Sentinel taught me that I’m an individual, but part of a bigger picture,” she says. “I now ask myself, ‘What can I contribute to nursing that will make the profession better?’ American Sentinel values that and it has helped me shape my path.”
Inspired by Mary’s story? An MSN program can be your passport to a specialty nursing field, like nursing education, informatics, nursing management and organizational leadership, or infection control. Specialized knowledge forms the foundation of these nursing fields. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.