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Real Spouse Employment: Surgical Nurse

Melanie Ness White

Landing a good position is a challenge for anyone in any walk of life. Add to that the challenges of military transfers, leave periods, deployments and not having family members nearby to help out during emergencies makes having a successful career especially difficult for military members and their dependents. 

Melanie Ness White has managed her career as a surgical nurse with hard work, sacrifices, compromises, creativity and a solid partnership. She and her husband have been married 12 years. The couple has two children, ages 9 and 6, with a third on the way.

What kind of surprises have you dealt with in your career?

When I first met my husband in 2001, I was in Germany doing a research project for a biochemistry company. The research was written up as my dissertation for my first degree -- bachelor of science with honors in biochemistry and immunology.

My intentions then were to pursue a career in research and get a master's degree and later a Ph.D in biochemistry. After we transferred to Phoenix, Arizona, I worked for a drug company coordinating clinical trials for a short period before we transferred to Pensacola, Florida.

It was a lot harder to find work in my field there, and I decided to pursue a master's degree instead. At this time, I realized that I may have to make a few changes if I wanted to stay both gainfully employed and married to the military.

Have you experienced professional growth, even with all of your transfers?

I probably do not appear to have experienced professional growth with all of our transfers. I was actually called a job hopper when I consulted a professional resume writing company while looking for a job this time!

What I have achieved is personal growth. Faced with the challenges with which we are faced during each assignment, I feel that I have overcome more obstacles than I ever would have if my husband had chosen a more traditional career.

While we were in Pensacola and I was halfway through a master's degree in forensic science and had a baby, I found a bachelor's degree in nursing degree program in Alabama that was only one year long.

There was a shortage of nurses at the time, and I was sure that I would be able to maintain employment through all the moves if I had a profession that was in higher demand.

When I was accepted, I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. I had to decide NOT to complete my master's and jump into this degree instead.

Nursing was NOT something that I would ever have chosen. Ironically, now it seems like it was meant to be. I have had a much easier time maintaining employment as a nurse and a lot of doors have opened for career progression as a result of having a BSN.

It's still not without challenges though. Three years in Germany took its toll even on this career; I could only find work as a substitute teacher there.

After returning to the U.S., it took eight months of job applications, 20 continuing education units and three months to process my Texas nursing license application before I found employment.

Then I had to get back into an ever-changing field and figure out how to do my job again. It was terrifying at first! The inconsistency has often left me feeling overqualified and underexperienced in the work force.

What are your professional intentions? Where do you see yourself in two years?

I plan to study for a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) and become an acute-care nurse practitioner.

How does your spouse support you best?

My spouse supports my need to keep a life separate from the military. He understands that I am a much better military wife when I don't feel suffocated by his commitments. That can be difficult while dealing with constant PCSs and deployments.

He hasn't complained about the thousands of dollars I have spent on education. He didn't say a word when I stayed in Pensacola for six months after he had to move to Texas so I could complete my nursing degree. He just figured out how to help us achieve our goal.

Now he does the best he can to work his schedule around mine so there is always someone there to pick up our kids. He understands that it's important that I feel fulfilled as well as him. He shows appreciation of the fact that I juggle work, kids and everything that he would normally be doing while he is gone.

He appreciates that I have worked hard to stay employed and keep a profession with all the moving. He knows that I have put things on hold for him several times and gone backward instead of forward on several occasions. He always shows me that he appreciates my sacrifices. I feel that this is so important in a military marriage.

If you have a daughter, would you want her to have your job?

As a nurse -- yes. It's a career that pleasantly surprised me. It can be as easy or as challenging as you make it. It has opened a lot of doors for career progression. A couple of people who graduated with me went straight to medical school from nursing school, so it really has no limit these days. 

Do I want her to become a military spouse? That's a little harder! It's definitely not for everyone. You have to be a person who can figure out how to adapt to your situation and do it fast and do it by yourself with no help.

You have to be able to face frustrating circumstances. For example: being held back in your career choice despite working twice as hard as others around you.

When I say "working twice as hard," I am referring to the times we have to repeat education or retrain for the same job because we were without work for three years, or having to convince an employer to give you a job, even though you have never stayed anywhere more than two years.

We military spouses often have to get our foot in the door at a lower position and prove ourselves again and again to get back to the level we were at previously. I wasn't always that type of person, but I learned to be and for me it's been a good thing.

Yes, if my daughter fell in love with a military guy I would be happy for her. It has made me a better person and I feel better equipped to handle whatever life throws at us.

What is next?  What happens after the military?

After the military, my husband gets to stay at home with the kids! He can work part time and keep up with all their school work and activities while I play catch up. I hope to be graduating with a DNP in time for him to retire and be at the beginning of my new career while he gets to take a break.

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