MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – One sunny Tuesday afternoon in the Pacific Northwest, a group of nurses promoted together. The simple ceremony was attended by friends and leaders of the nine second lieutenants and was filled with ritual and symbolism. It was not the first promotion ceremony alongside Madigan Army Medical Center’s Pond, nor will it be the last this year alone. But it was special. These nine new first lieutenants will remember May 23, 2023, as their first promotion as registered nurses in the Army and as friends who did it together.
“I got here last January . We finished our CNTP course – it was a six-month course – so, we finished that last August  and now we're all complete. We are full nurses on the floors – a mix of 6 North, 7 North and 2 South,” said 1st Lt. Nicole Juskus, one of the registered nurses who works on one of the medical-surgical wards – 6 North – and helped arrange the combined ceremony, along with 1st Lt. Jessica Olejar.
The Army Clinical Nurse Transition Program (CNTP) sets out six months for new nurses to train alongside medical-surgical nurses to gain valuable experience in significant care techniques before working more independently. As brand-new nurses and second lieutenants, this is a time Army Medicine provides for them to watch and learn. It is a time to build relationships and insight into their unique fields of medicine and soldiering. It can create bonds that hold fast over time.
“I think what's really special about our cohort is that we were really close from the beginning and I think we just all wanted to do it together because we like each other, and we really support each other,” said 1st Lt. Sarah Wuerker. “So, it’s really nice to be able to have that family at a new duty station – our first duty assignment – and to have that close group is really special.”
After finishing nursing school, these nurses commissioned into the Army and were assigned to Alpha Company, 187th Medical Battalion at the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence (MEDCoE) in San Antonio, Texas, for their time in the Basic Officer Leader Course before entering the CNTP cohort at Madigan, one of a number of military treatment facilities within the Army with this program. Other branches have a similar program.
“It’s definitely a good program,” said 1st Lt. Amber Keller of CNTP as she also noted that the group of nurses felt early on that they would like to promote together, when the time came.
Promotions often come right before new duty stations. Luckily for Madigan and JBLM, these nurses will stay put for another year or more. That’s good news, given how nurses are in short supply across the nation at this point in time.
It’s also good news because each of these nurses was highly praised by their officer-in-charge at the ceremony.
First Lt. Julia Blum, the clinical nurse officer-in-charge of the 6 South and 7 North medical-surgical wards, introduced the majority of the nurses, five of whom work on 7 North.
“The energy, drive and motivation this group has is so special. Since stepping on the unit, they've all set such a high standard in medical-surgical nursing care and leadership,” said Blum. “Through their individual strengths and passions these ladies bring so much to the table and have a profound impact on 7 North.”
“Lt. [Jessica] Olejar is confident in her practice, professional and compassionate. She has recently attended the preceptor course and she won RN of the year for Nurses’ Week this year,” said Blum.
“Lt. [Sarah] Wuerker creates a positive work environment and she’s always increasing our morale. She's our education and services champion, she ensures adequate education material and development,” said Blum.
“Lt. [Charlotte] Wade demonstrates empathy and respect, she’s very passionate about education and quality improvement. Lt. Wade has attended the preceptor course and has recently started her MBA at Washington State University. Charlotte became a nurse because she believes this was her calling,” said Blum.
“Lt. [Mackenzie] Murray displays excellence at the bedside and as a Soldier. She is one of four 66Hotel ICTL champions planning and executing quarterly training. She is finishing up her MSN in the fall at Grand Canyon University,” said Blum of Murray’s military occupational specialty of medical-surgical nurse (66H) and her work on helping her peers complete their individual critical task lists.
“Lt. [Amber] Keller is highly motivated and selfless. She recently earned her expert field medical badge in Hawaii. Lt. Keller is a second-generation Madigan nurse to receive her EFMB, her mother earned her EFMP at Madigan in 1992,” said Blum.
Maj. Daniel Boone, the clinical nurse officer-in-charge of the 6 North medical-surgical ward, stepped forward to talk about the nurses on his floor. As someone who has not been on the ward long, he shared words written by peers of the nurses. But Boone did note his own impressions first.
“They're excellent nurses. I've only been on 6 for a while but it's amazing how well all the military nurses get along, it’s the best of anywhere I’ve worked,” Boone said.
“Lt. [Chloe] Bullock – she's from Colchester, Vermont. She's a very caring nurse who will go above and beyond for her patients and peers. She comes from a family of seven nurses. And basically, they said she was genetically designed to be a nurse, said Boone.
“Lt. [Nicole] Juskus – from Willow Springs, Illinois. She graduated [from] Illinois State University. She's an above average nurse who's quickly gained the respect of her peers and is a reliable source for other nurses,” said Boone.
“Lt, [Paul Steven] Escamilla – from San Antonio [Texas] graduated from the University of Incarnate Word. He's a very exceptional nurse who's always willing to help you at any moment. Although he may have a monotone voice, his jokes brighten up the floor when you most need it,” said Boone.
The remaining nurse was introduced and commended by Capt. Jason Annelin, the officer-in-charge of the 2 South step-down critical care unit.
“Lt. [Gabriel] Schrag – I have enjoyed watching Lt. Schrag develop as a nurse and an officer on 2 South. He's been a great addition to our unit. He's been certified in vascular access, helping patients get IVs throughout the hospital,” said Annelin. “And he’s basically just been a great asset to us helping out on the floor.”
Sgt. Kaiya Hammond, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge on 7 North, called those in attendance to attention and read the orders promoting the group of nurses to the next rank.
After which, friends and colleagues pinned on their new ranks to their uniforms and Maj. Mario Medina, the chief of the Patient Logistics Center, administered the oath of office to the newly pinned first lieutenants.
Among those joining the receiving line were a number of people within the nursing chain of command.
“We had a lot of leadership out, which is always nice to see,” commented Wade following the ceremony.
For some, this was not their first Army promotion because they were previously in the National Guard or the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Most expect plenty more ceremonies in their future.
“It's cool to take that next step in the Army, continue our careers and it was really awesome we got to do it together as a class,” said Olejar.