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Brian Napier, class of 2023, talks about what his experience means for his second career in nursing

As an undergraduate Environmental Studies major at the University of Tennessee, Brian Napier, VCU School of Nursing class of 2023, was approached by a National Parks Recruiter who offered him a seasonal position at Denali National Park an Preserve in Alaska. After a year of a heavy course load,  he leapt at the opportunity for a ticket out of Knoxville for the summer.  Little did he know at the time but the internship would turn into a career as a park ranger in the wilderness of Alaska.

At first, Napier’s responsibilities included a bit of everything–from picking up trash, to responding to bear sightings at campsites, to coordinating rescues of injured park visitors. He was grateful to be doing something he loved in a beautiful place–after all, this was the land of the midnight sun. 

Eventually Napier and his partner decided to live in Denali year round and found permanent positions, his wife in environmental policy and him as a park dispatcher. In that role, he was responsible for responding to emergency service requests and coordinating movements of rangers or other personnel working within the 6 million-acre park. 

As he progressed in his role, his team’s response area grew, and he ultimately oversaw park dispatch for the entire state. While he enjoyed the new responsibilities of his position that included working with the Alaska State Troopers, U.S. Coast Guard and senior leadership within the National Park Service, he started to miss his early days of direct service when he spent more time in the field as a park ranger. 

As time passed, Napier thought more about ways he could get back to what he loved, working directly with people. He took EMT classes, a natural bridge between his experiences in the remote landscape of Alaska and what he started to think about as his future: a career in nursing. “I always kept nursing in the back of mind as a later career,” he said. 

Grateful for his experiences as a park ranger, he credits it with pushing him to know himself better and what he valued in a career. “I stayed initially for the grandeur, but it was the people who kept me there for 17-years […] However I was faced with the question, ‘Stay in place and be dissatisfied in my career, versus [following] the drive to serve my community and fill that huge gap in human power in nursing?” 

Now Napier is a VCU School of Nursing student and VCU Health patient care technician.  He is enjoying the pace of nursing, especially direct patient care as a student nurse and patient care technician in the trauma unit. He is one of 105 adult learners pursuing a nursing degree at VCU. Because nursing is the third most popular major for adult and non-traditional VCU students, the school’s student community represents a particularly diverse set of experiences and perspectives. Napier embodies that fully, wanting to use all of his past experiences to build a fulfilling future. “Paramedic in the field in summer, nurse in winter, I can see myself returning to that, “ he said.

by Moira Neve

Categories News, Students