79th MDW nurses, medical techs deliver trusted care in all the right places

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe Yanik
  • Air Force District of Washington

(This story is the first of 10 stories about the more than 1,500 Air Force health care professionals who make up the 79th Medical Wing and the vast expertise they bring to executing the organization's mission of providing medical services for expeditionary deployment and defense operations in the National Capital Region and around the world.)

This Friday concludes National Nurses Week 2017, a time designated by the American Nurses Association to celebrate our country’s nursing professionals who lend their expertise and training to advance the health and wellness of their patients. For more than 455,000 beneficiaries across the National Capital Region, the Air Force medical team, including more than 200 Airmen and 85 civilian nurses, serving under the 79th Medical Wing, stands ready to deliver a wide spectrum of medical care.


“The Air Force celebrates Nurse-Technician Week because these medical professionals work together as a team,” said Col. Marina Ray, 79th MDW chief nurse. Ray is responsible for nursing practice and professional development oversight of the wing’s nurses.


The Capital Medic nurses and medical technicians, who operate under the wing’s 579th and 779th Medical Groups, specialize in a number of disciplines providing trusted care to civilian and military patients at Fort Belvoir, Va., the Pentagon, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Md., Joint Bases Andrews, Md., and Anacostia-Bolling, D.C.


“Our nurses can take a variety of career paths in the Air Force that are comparable to their civilian counterparts, like working in operating rooms, critical care units or treating mental health or trauma patients,” said Ray. “Some ways our nursing service personnel differ from civilians is that the Airmen perform their jobs during aeromedical evacuation missions or in deployed settings.”


Having received her direct commission in 1988, Ray has garnered years of experience in administrative, obstetrical and flight nursing. She served as flight training officer, flight evaluator as well as chief nurse for three medical groups before becoming chief nurse of the 79th MDW in 2016.


Over her career, Ray said she’s identified certain qualities she believes are important for a successful nursing career, among them is what she calls the importance of “getting to yes.”


“Another key quality I’ve found in the most successful Air Force nurses is the drive to get patients the care that’s right for them,” said Ray. “Furthermore, successful nursing service personnel show commitment to our service’s core values, teamwork, being good listeners and showing empathy.”


If patients are unable to get the specific care they need at JBA or JBAB, Ray said the wing leans on its close partnerships within the NCR Military Health System that offers specialty services.


“We greatly value our partnerships because we recognize the limitations of our capabilities,” said Ray. “By relying on our partnerships with Fort Belvoir, Walter Reed or civilian medical facilities, we are able to meet our patients’ needs.”


According to the American Nursing Association, the theme of this year’s National Nurses Week is “Nursing: The Balance of Mind, Body and Spirit," which focuses on the importance of nursing personnel taking steps to ensure their own well-being.

In their jobs, nursing service personnel encounter challenging conditions of caring for others daily. In 2010, the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses published a study entitled, Why are nurses leaving?. The study cited “compassion fatigue” and “emotional stress related to patient care” as some of the reasons nurses burn out and leave the profession.


Ray said she’s also observed these challenges at times among nursing service personnel. She said it is important for leaders to facilitate ways the nursing service personnel can improve their resiliency by maintaining balance and wellness in their personal and professional lives.


“Personnel are provided opportunities to change duty sections if manning allows,” said Ray. “Additionally, we encourage healthy eating, sleeping and spiritual practices; we even have a fitness space with some equipment so our staff members can work out.”


Ray also emphasized the importance of job competency and the need for continuous process improvement in the workplace.


“I always tell my Airmen to stay current on training, read nursing literature and pursue professional growth opportunities,” Ray said. “Doing these activities help to improve job performance, job satisfaction and the quality of care for our patients.”


As the wing’s chief nurse, Ray said her leadership philosophy means encouraging personnel to develop qualities to be successful, practice healthy professional and personal habits and devote themselves to continuous process improvement. By taking care of themselves, the 79th MDW’s Capital Medics ensure they can continue delivering trusted nursing care to their patients in all the right places.

(Read more here for commentary about this story series by the 79th Wing commander, Col. Sharon Bannister)