Air Force Staff Sgt. Kedrian Guy was a medic for eight years, including a deployment to Qatar in 2009, where he worked in various hospital settings, caring for injured combat troops, transporting patients and running an immunization clinic in the evenings.
Today, he is in clinical rounds at Tampa General Hospital, Florida, as a student nurse. On a recent Tuesday, the 30-year-old was in the transplant ward caring for patients waiting for, or having received, organ donations.
"This means the world to me. It's a dream come true, treating people and helping them as a nurse," said Guy, who will graduate in December from the University of South Florida and be commissioned through the Air Force Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Program.
Guy is one of hundreds of student veterans working toward their Bachelor of Science in nursing degrees through programs like USF's V-CARE program — initiatives that offer accelerated programs for medics or corpsmen to become registered nurses.
Five of Military Times' Best for Vets top 25 colleges offer such programs to veterans — especially those with advanced casualty care training and experience — to help them land jobs in the nation's emergency rooms, surgical wards, clinical care and elsewhere.
University officials say active-duty troops and veterans have much to contribute to the field and many simply need assistance figuring out how to get there.
"When these students arrive, they already are performing like [licensed practical nurses], with their education and scope of practice," said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Alicia Rossiter, director of USF's V-CARE program. "So we award credits for nursing courses based on military training."
In 2012, the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the federal Health and Human Services Department, launched a multiyear grant program to help schools establish and design curricula for transitioning veterans to enter the in-demand profession.
Some colleges, like George Washington University, already had a veterans nursing program in the works, but the HRSA grants ensured that more than 20 schools nationwide could develop such programs, said Billinda Tebbenhoff, associate dean for undergraduate studies in GWU's School of Nursing.
"These students are exactly the type of people you want to go into nursing. Certainly the commitment is there and obviously the caring," Tebbenhoff said. "You can't capture that or teach it."
GWU offers a 15-month, four-semester program for veterans with 60 credit hours who have taken the prerequisites needed for nursing school like anatomy and physiology, microbiology, psychology and liberal arts courses.
The acceptance standards for GWU's veterans program are as high as those for regular students applying to GWU's nursing school, except veterans are not required to have an associate or bachelor's degree.
Student veterans also are provided counseling, support and guidance within a cohort of other veterans, Tebbenhoff said.
"Veterans often need support to help them sort out many of the challenges of enrolling in a university, from travel to figuring out how much of their previous education counts," Tebbenhoff said.
Veterans and active-duty personnel also receive a high degree of support in the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's Veterans Access Program.
When students began applying for the program, School of Nursing administrators found that few had the prerequisite courses needed to enter directly into the program, but rather than reject the applicants outright, they enrolled them in the needed courses.
This year, 15 students were ready to earn their bachelor's in nursing in three semesters through VAP and UNCG is now looking to accept 30 veterans for fall 2016.
"Our students are so excited. When we ask them what they want to do, we hear that many want to get advanced degrees to become certified nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners. … We have several who are active duty who will enter their services' nursing corps and a few National Guardsmen who will continue serving while working as nurses," said Susan Letvack, department head of the school of health and director for undergraduate programs at UNC.
Donna Hatch, dean of nursing at Collin College in Texas said student veterans who are trained in advanced lifesaving techniques at the Defense Department's Medical Education and Training Campus in San Antonio and other military training programs have the experience, talent and commitment to become quality nurses.
"Military personnel are willing to serve others — it's a passion that can't be taught. And 90 percent of what nursing is, is being willing to put your patient first," Hatch said.
Collin College offers a fast track nursing degree that allows veterans to complete the program in three semesters with scheduling flexibility, to include online lectures and clinical hours scheduled around work.
Staff Sgt. Guy chose the USF program because he was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base and had been surfing the Internet for nearby opportunities in the medical field. Within a month of being accepted to the program, he learned he had been accepted for Air Force NECP.
As a full-time student who was just shy of a bachelor's degree before entering the program, he was able to condense what is usually a 24-month commitment into 16 months.
"It's hard work, but it will be worth it in the end," Guy said.
Davenport University's Veterans Bachelor of Science Nursing program also helps former corpsmen and medics obtain their degrees. With 17 service members enrolled in various stages of the program, from freshman to senior, Davenport has learned much from their student veterans and is continually developing the program to meet their needs, said Karen Daley, Davenport's dean of health professions.
Davenport offers credit through various tests, including CLEP, COMPASS, DSST, placement exams and military credit transfers.
And it has created a number of courses exclusively for veterans that combine basic nursing courses to streamline the transition from service to student, Daley said.
"We have a transitions course that combines nursing fundamentals and health assessments, because they know how to do blood pressure. They know how to create a core plan for patients. These are very basic fundamentals. We don't have to teach them to make beds," Daley said.
Administrators say in addition to already possessing the caring qualities of a nurse, veterans also have the leadership skills it takes to run a ward or oversee a staff.
But they also see one challenge in creating nurses from enlisted medical troops: teaching them to "think like a nurse," administrators say.
"As an EMT, medic or corpsman, your job is to keep young men and women alive for that first hour. It's an adrenaline-flowing situation. Nursing can be that. Or it might be as delicate as holding the hand of an elderly woman who just got a bad diagnosis," Daley said.
On the cusp of graduating, Guy will go to the Air Force's Basic Officer Training Program, followed by his first assignment as a nurse at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
With his experience as a medic, his education and his officer training, he will be ready, he said.
"For me to be able to care for people, it's what I was meant to do."