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Veteran spotlight: Nursing student to take flight on grand adventures in the Navy

Photo of Kelsey Shannon in front of an American Flag.
Kelsey Shannon (Courtesy photo)
Photo of Kelsey Shannon participating in a training exercise.(Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

After nearly six years in the military, Kelsey Shannon will soon embark on her biggest adventure yet – a nursing career in the United States Navy. Shannon graduates in December from Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Currently a Medical Services Officer in the Texas Army National Guard, she will complete her residency and training with the goal of becoming a flight nurse.

“My goal since joining the military has been to go active duty,” the San Antonio native said. “I’ve been chipping at it, and I’m so ready to jump in. I’m so ready to see new places. If there’s a sunrise and sunset, there is something beautiful to see. I’m so excited to see the rest of the world.”

Shannon enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2016, and was among the first women in Texas to be assigned to 13B, a specialty unit where she was trained to shoot cannons.    

She earned a Bachelor of Science in microbiology from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, in 2020, and completed its ROTC program to become a commissioned officer into the Texas Army National Guard. In her current role, she helps plan medical logistics for her unit.

Kelsey Shannon
Student, Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston
Second Lieutenant, Medical Services Officer, Texas Army National Guard
Future ENS, Nurse Corps Officer, U.S. Navy

What drew you to the military?

I really like the discipline that comes with being in the military. I initially joined for the financial benefits, and I fell in love with the culture that came with it – the people and camaraderie. The connections and relationships you make while in the military is unlike anything I have experienced on the civilian side, and that’s part of why I’m so excited to go full time.

What drew you to UTHealth Houston?

I was in the Austin area, working as a researcher for a start-up company, and I was looking for a program that was reputable and fast. I didn’t want to spend another two years to get to my dream job of flight nurse. The Pacesetter BSN program at Cizik School of Nursing is top in the state, and its NCLEX licensure exam scores were among the best in the state. I applied, and they liked me enough to let me in. I had never been to Houston, and I didn’t have a full understanding how much emphasis the Texas Medical Center has in the city. It’s awesome, and I was able to see a lot more stuff than I thought I would in nursing school.

How did the military prepare you for UTHealth Houston?

The military has helped with my discipline, and that applies with everything in my life: management, commitment to studying, work ethic. For me, it gave me a lot of pride. I have pride in being myself, in being a soldier, and at Cizik School of Nursing, it gave me a changed perspective. I’m less affected going into difficult situations on the medical side.

When I was working as a nurse tech at Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital, sometimes patients were challenging, but it never really affected me. I was able to keep my cool and provide the care they needed, and I think part of that is from my experiences in the military. In the military, you’re pushed through high tension, conflict situations. It gave me a lot of understanding, and sometimes you must accept difficult situations for what they are and know it will pass, and it will be OK.

At basic training, I was put in charge of other people. I was 18 years old and in charge of 40 people, most of whom were at least 30 years old. The pressure of having that many eyes on me made me grow up and take on more responsibilities, and handle conflict in a healthier way. The skill has transferred into the medical field more than I thought it would.

What is your greatest accomplishment thus far?

My greatest accomplishment came as I graduated from Texas State University, and was commissioned as an officer into the Texas National Guard. I graduated in the top 20% in the whole nation, making me a distinguished military graduate within ROTC.

It was essentially how the military determines your rank compared to all the people who commission at the same time. There are many factors, including GPA, clubs you participated in, and evaluations from instructors, and you have to go to a 40-day summer training. National rank is an accumulation of those things, and to be in the top percentile is a tremendous accomplishment.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

I have a lot of advice I’d give my 18-year-old self, but if I could go back to basic training, I would say enjoy all of it and write it all down. I did keep a journal in basic, and I actively tried to write things down when I had trainings, but there are times that I wish I wrote down more. You do so many things. You will be asked to do things that you don’t think are possible. Do it. They wouldn’t be asking you to do it if it wasn’t possible. Write those experiences down, and enjoy the experiences as they come.

What are you hoping to take from UTHealth Houston in the near future?

It’s important to not be afraid to jump at opportunities, because you are here for a reason – to learn everything you can. There are so many opportunities to jump into, including clubs and programs that enrich your learning experience. A lot of programs just check the boxes, but UTHealth Houston is good about helping students expand their potential.

What would you like others to know about UTHealth Houston?

It is rigorous, but the hard work does pay off. I’ve been told Cizik School of Nursing has one of the hardest programs in the state, and the hard work does pay off. I didn’t realize how much I really knew until I got into a clinical setting. The academic rigor has better prepared me for the professional world.

Message to other veterans at UTHealth Houston?

Use our experience to your advantage, and know it’s OK to be a source of stability to others. There are a lot of anxieties that come with nursing school, whether you’re a veteran or not, but lean on your training because it will help get you through. And, don’t be afraid to reach out and utilize resources available to you –it makes you a stronger person. There are people on campus who genuinely want to help, like Rex Marsau, case manager for veteran admissions and retired Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Navy. He helped me complete the proper paperwork to allow me to continue my education while also serving in the National Guard.

Who has been your biggest influence?

My mother. She is an incredible person. She had a tough background and is the sweetest, most open-minded human being. She has been a physical therapist for more than 20 years, and she put herself through school. She beat breast cancer and runs marathons. She has the kindest heart for everyone. She is so endearing, and works so hard. I hope to be half the person she is, because she is special.

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