By Steve Lewis
FORT CAMPBELL, KY — Army Capt. Christine Shepherd says she’s “never satisfied with ‘no’ for an answer. I’m always looking for creative ways to accommodate patient needs, safely and efficiently.”
Shepherd, brigade nurse with Company C, 801st Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, says she believes that “out of the box” thinking helped her win the Army Nurse Corps’ 2014 Leadership Award of Excellence.
Capt. Jason Constantineau, the commander of the 801st BSB, suggests that was part of it.
“I nominated Captain Shepherd because she embodies the vision and mission of the U.S. Army Medical Department, which is to provide responsive and reliable health services to improve readiness and save lives,” he suggests. “She met this challenge and exceeded expectations both in garrison and in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It has been a joy to serve alongside Chris in the Painkiller formation. There is no greater advocate for the health and well-being of each and every Currahee soldier than Capt. Shepherd.”
Shepherd offers this example of the way she takes care of business:
“Say you get trauma patients and the air is red,” says Shepherd, who served in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. “The traditional way to transport a patient is with fixed wing aircraft, but in that case you have to consider other options for getting a patient to a higher echelon of care. So, I’d start contacting people with a bigger, more efficient way; if you can’t put them on fixed wing, then you put them on another mode, like rotor wing, to get them out of there safely and quickly.”
Early Role Models
Shepherd, who was born in Jamaica, was raised by her great-grandmother and by her mother. “My great-grandmother was considered the Florence Nightingale of the neighborhood; she delivered all the babies, and as the oldest girls we followed her and boiled the water,” she recalls. “I always wanted to be like her.”
As an Army recruit in 1996, Shepherd “wanted to do anything medical.” Her recruiter suggested she become a medic. “I worked in VA as a nursing assistant and loved that job,” she recalls. “Working with a population of World War II and Vietnam veterans brought me so much joy — it was a pleasure to serve them.”
Shepherd was going to leave the Army in 2000 and actually applied to nursing school, which was her dream. “But being a single mom I needed more money to raise three kids, so I chose the Army,” she explains. She got a business degree, graduated from Columbia College and served as a logistician for seven years, becoming an officer in 2003, all the while dreaming of nursing school.
In 2006 she was deployed with a military transition team and thought this was her final assignment in the Army. “But the Army said we’ll keep you in and give you your branch of choice, or $30,000, and I said I’ll take my branch of choice — which was the Army Nurse Corps,” Shepherd shares. She went to the University of Missouri for an accelerated nursing program, and graduated in 2009.
While she is both a nurse and an officer, Shepherd says she never lets her two missions conflict. “I’m a nurse by heart — I was born to be one,” she declares. “I love patient care, but I also love being an officer. I advocate for my patients, while my duty as an officer is to maintain order and discipline and the readiness of the Currahee Nation.”
One common element, she continues, is her honesty. “At the end of the day I’ll always tell patients I will not lie to them, and sometimes you have to tell a soldier the hard truth, that their condition may not let them stay in the service.”
Here’s where Shepherd has to find that balance she talked about. “I can sit and hold their hand and say tomorrow will be a better day, but I’m an officer. I know what the regulations say, so I have to tell them, ‘We’ll get you the care you need, but you won’t be able to stay.’ Sometimes that’s very difficult; this is their livelihood and they’re passionate about it. In fact, it’s heartbreaking, but you have to do it.”
Having the opportunity to serve in this brigade, says Shepherd, has been her most rewarding experience as an Army nurse. “I hope if this is read by others who contemplate becoming an Army nurse, they will see it’s not a linear field,” she says. “You can serve as nurse and have the experience of serving with these soldiers. To serve in garrison and then to have the opportunity to deploy with them is probably what I’ve found the most rewarding.”
Because of these diverse experiences, she explains, “You see them as just much more than a patient on a trauma table — it’s someone who has a daughter and a wife. They are like your family, and your heart just melts when you see them in that position.”
Shepherd’s next assignment will be as an Army nursing recruiter in California. “After two years, my time in the military will be over,” says Shepherd, who wants to pursue a master’s degree in public health. “My No. 1 goal after that is to work peacefully in a rural area for a nonprofit for an underserved population,” she shares. “Serving in the Army lets me do that, because I’ll be retired.”