Air Force Nurse Distinguishes Herself On and Off the Battlefield

by U.S. Medicine

July 12, 2012

By Steve Lewis

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD — While deployed to Afghanistan, Air Force Capt. Gina Fasciani, RN, BSN, wasn’t afraid to don battle gear and leave her bunker to take care of patients.

“While under indirect fire, she [left] the safety of the bunker, put on her battle gear and ran to her patients to ensure their safety,” said Maj. Daniel Donohue, who nominated the 28-year-old nurse for recognition as the U.S. Air Force’s Airman of the Year at the 46th USO Woman of the Year Luncheon.

Capt. Gina Fasciani is credited with ensuring 99% survival rate while directly treating 380 trauma patients.

Fasciani, who escorted 16 wounded servicemembers to helicopters for treatment that day, won the award not only for her battlefield exploits but also for what she did behind the scenes.

“What makes Capt. Fasciani stand out even more are the extra duties she volunteered for while deployed: She was named the head of a preventive medicine initiative, authoring a standard of practice on hygiene for an international clinic and led a mentoring program for 30 Afghan women,” wrote Donohue, who called her “a portrait of a nurse who epitomizes all that the ‘Battlefield Guardian’ embodies,” to inspire future generations.

Fasciani, presently assigned to the 79th Medical Wing at Joint Base Andrews, MD, served as the crucial care nursing expert for a surgical operating team based in Afghanistan at Forward Operating Base Ghazni from March to October 2011. She is credited with ensuring a 99% survival rate and directly treating 380 trauma patients, of which 342 required emergency transfer to a higher level of care.

“I think it’s an honor; you get the best of both worlds,” Fasciani tells U.S. Medicine about her dual role as a nurse and an Air Force officer. “It’s an awesome mission.”

Prior to her deployment, she was named No. 1 out of 54 nurses in the ICU at Walter Reed National Military Medicine Center, Bethesda, MD, where she now serves as a critical care nurse.

In addition to the USO honor, Fasciani has received the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Air Force Overseas Ribbon, Air Force Expedition Service Ribbon with Gold Border, AF Longevity Service, AF Training Ribbon and the NATO Medal.

Air Force Nurse Distinguishes Herself On and Off the Battlefield

A Natural Fit

Fasciani says she sees a natural fit between her two roles.

“As a nurse, I take care of patients who are fellow servicemembers, as well as retirees, which is unique. And also, as a captain, I get to learn and exercise leadership and what it means to be an officer,” she explains. “There I get to do things nurses do not [usually] get to do — be in charge of programs, for example.”

She notes that many of the skills she learned in officer training are translatable to nursing, such as making decisions quickly and taking a leadership role in stressful situations.

Capt. Gina Fasciani served as the crucial care nursing expert for a surgical operating team based in Afganistan.

“They are all beneficial to my work as a nurse, and both skill sets work synergistically – each one bettering the other,” she says.

Fasciani set her sights on both aspects of her career at about the same time, when a student at Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK, she recalls.

“I was in ROTC in college and enrolled in nursing at the same time,” says Fasciani. “I knew that what I wanted to do with my life was to be helpful to people in a very practical way, and being a nurse felt perfect. The role of the nurse in the military has such an awesome history, so being both is a tremendous honor.”

Nursing opportunities in the military are unique, she adds, as are the educational opportunities and the excitement of travel. “It’s also fairly easy to move in and out of different nursing roles,” Fasciani adds.

Passion is a Key Element

Though the surroundings in a hospital and on the battlefield clearly differ, Fasciani says the keys to excellence in nursing care do not. “The nursing care is the same,” she asserts, with passion heading the list.

“Being passionate about what we are doing and the people we serve is vital,” she says. “Without that, I don’t think you could do a very good job taking care of people.” The other vital elements include working as a team, being surrounded with good people and communicating well, she notes, adding, “that ensures excellent care.”  

For herself, she continues, “What I do to make sure I am giving excellent care is to try to always have a learning attitude — to take advantage of all the opportunities presented to me to learn and grow, to ask lots of questions and to heavily rely on team members. We learn and grow from each other.”

In addition, Fasciani says, despite her many awards, she tries “to remain in a humble state.”

That humility is evident when she discusses the bravery she displayed on the battlefield, and where she found the courage to put her patients first — at great risk to herself.

“Honestly, I did not think too much about it; it’s one of those things where we train for those scenarios,” says Fasciani. “As a nurse, you’re always thinking about your patients and their safety. In that circumstance [any personal danger] did not really cross my mind. I went into action mode, put on the gear I was supposed to put on, had a few team members by my side, and together we gave each other courage. It was only afterward that I analyzed what had happened.”

Fasciani also has clear goals for the future. “I’m actually in grad school to be a nurse midwife — that is very different from trauma nursing,” she says. “I’m excited to take the next step in becoming a nurse practitioner, which is more of a provider role, with a wider patient population. Eventually, I’d like to work overseas, helping people who do not have easy access to healthcare — but that could be far in the distance.”

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