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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Medical technician in war can’t get licensed in Wisconsin

Nicole Moore holds a girl who she had as a patient while in Afghanistan. The girl had fallen on a piece of metal and it went through her eye. Moore, who is from Poynette, said she grew close to her and was happy to see her discharged from the hospital in good shape.

She remembers walking to the gym at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, some 45 miles north of Kabul, when the base’s siren suddenly went off.

Everything else that happened on the morning of Feb. 27, 2007, is pretty much a blur, said 23-year-old Nicole Moore of Poynette, who was serving as an Air Force emergency medical technician at the time.

Within seconds, Moore found herself at the scene of one of the deadliest suicide bombings of the Afghanistan war. The bomber had somehow gotten inside the base’s heavily guarded front gate and then blew himself up — killing 23 people and injuring more than 20 others in an attack that many believe was aimed at Vice President Dick Cheney, who was visiting the base that day.

Moore, who’d arrived at Bagram just two months earlier, said she was stunned by the devastation the blast had caused. Limbs and other body parts were scattered everywhere, and screams of horror filled the air.

“It was crazy, but you couldn’t think about that,” said Moore, a 2002 graduate of Poynette High School. “You just had to concentrate on your job. You couldn’t afford to lose your focus.”

Two of the victims Moore tended to that day died. One was an 8-year-old boy whose intestines were hanging out of his body as Moore and a doctor worked in vain to save him. The other was a civilian contractor from the United States who eventually bled to death.

Moore had a lot of grim days during her five-month stint at Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram, the largest trauma center in Afghanistan, where her duties included those of a typical LPN. While she said she’s proud of her service, she admitted being relieved when her tour ended and she returned to Travis Air Force Base in California in May 2007.

“It was definitely humbling,” she said. “And after it was over, I had such an extreme appreciation for America and how good we have it. It was a real eye-opener for me.”

It left such an impression that Moore decided she wanted to become an LPN in the private sector and devote the rest of her life to caring for others. Unfortunately, those plans recently hit a snag, Moore said.

Upon returning to California, Moore was allowed to take the state’s nursing board exams — which she passed with flying colors, because California allows nursing candidates to substitute military education and experience for college credits.

However, when she moved back to Poynette early this year, she was shocked to learn that her license won’t transfer to Wisconsin. Not only that, but the Wisconsin Board of Nursing won’t even allow her to take the nursing boards because she hasn’t graduated from a board-approved school of nursing.

“I was very disappointed, naturally,” said Moore, who is enrolled at Madison Area Technical College, which has a two-year wait to get into its LPN program. “I feel I have a lot to offer, a lot of experience I could bring to the job. I’m adaptable and I’ve worked under pressure.”

After graduating from the EMT program at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, Moore went through seven months of medical training at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. Then she headed off to Afghanistan, where she treated both military and local trauma victims — including members of the Taliban. She served 5 1/2 years in the military, from 2002 to January 2008.

“If I can practice nursing on our soldiers and as a civilian in California, why isn’t that good enough for Wisconsin?” she said. “Especially when there’s such a critical nursing shortage.”

Sgt. Melissa Martinez, who worked alongside Moore in the ER at Bagram and is now stationed at Travis, agreed.

“I think Wisconsin officials need to do a little research and find out what a medical technician in the military does on a day-to-day basis — especially overseas — and compare that to a regular LPN who works in a hospital,” Martinez said. “Because being in a war situation, you experience so much more than any civilian nurse.”

Martinez said that besides working intense 12-hour shifts and getting few days off during her five months in Afghanistan, Moore was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for saving the life of a young Army officer who’d collapsed and gone into cardiac arrest while working out at the Bagram gym.

So for anyone to suggest that Moore isn’t qualified to be an LPN is nonsense, Martinez said.

Kim Nania, division administrator of board services for the Wisconsin Board of Nursing, disagreed.

Nania said each state board has its own criteria, and just because California’s allows military vets without a degree from an accredited nursing school to takes its boards doesn’t mean Wisconsin should follow suit.

The military, she said, trains people to meet its specific needs. “And not all military training is substantially equivalent to what’s required in order to become a nurse,” she said. “And please remember the words substantially equivalent, because that’s the piece that’s very important. Because you need to know you’ve gotten all of the training — not just a piece of it or three-quarters of it — that is deemed necessary.”

Nania said some military schools offer excellent training and are accredited. Many others, however, fall far short.

Nania said it’s unfortunate that there’s a two-year waiting list to get into MATC’s LPN program. But she suggests that Moore check out the online nursing program at Excelsior College of New York, which not only is accredited but often grants credit for military experience.

Thanks but no thanks, said Moore, who’s decided to finish the year at MATC and then transfer to UW-Madison’s RN program — even though it means she’ll spend the next four years basically relearning what she already knows. She’ll work minimum-wage jobs to help pay her bills.

“I’m certainly not giving up on nursing, because I love it,” she said.

But it’s exasperating, she said, knowing that she’s proven herself in the most demanding, high-pressure situations imaginable — and yet Wisconsin officials say that’s not good enough. Then in the next breath, Moore said, they’ll complain about the nursing shortage.

“I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t make sense.”


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