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YON 2020 Day 139: Lieutenant Colonel Judy Pearce, BSN, RN, CCRN, ret.

After a nursing career that lasted 36 years, Lieutenant Colonel Judy Pearce, BSN, RN, CCRN, retired from the United States Air Force Reserves, Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at the 445th Airlift Wing, Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio. She also retired from Cleveland Clinic. In her story, she looks back on the many varied experiences throughout the world she has had as a nurse.

I believe in creating an environment of engaged caregivers, who drive change, embrace challenges and know that they made a difference in the lives of our patients. ~ Judy Pearce, BSN, RN, CCRN - AACN Circle of Excellence Legacy Statement, 2016.

I also believe that people are called to fulfill a purpose in life and that God equips you with the skills and attributes to accomplish that purpose. I certainly found my purpose when I became a nurse 36 years ago. What I did not realize then, was that my nursing career would take me from a high acuity Intensive Care Unit to service in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, and then to New Orleans to respond to the need for aeromedical evacuations after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


For the first eleven years of my career, I was a staff nurse in critical care. I felt called to do more, so in 1995, I joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves, quickly transitioning to Flight Nurse, transporting sick and injured service members from all over the world. When war was declared in Afghanistan and in Iraq, our deployments became more frequent. I remember saying that the many years I worked in a busy ICU, prepared me to fly critical patients on military aircraft, many times without a physician onboard. I was honored to serve as a combat Flight Nurse, transporting our wounded heroes from battlefield locations, back to Germany or on to the United States for further medical care.

As rewarding as combat nursing was, my greatest military mission was evacuating patients out of Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I remember thinking at the time that all of the combat deployments really prepared me to do something that had never been done before in our country. Our Air Force crews worked tirelessly, with duty days lasting 24 hours, to accomplish our mission.

Nursing is a profession that allows unlimited opportunities, many times around the world. I was privileged to accept a position as Nursing Director for Perioperative Services in Abu Dhabi and three years later to assist on pre-operational leadership activities in preparation to open a new hospital in London, England, U.K. I truly believe that if you have faith like a rock and nerves of steel, you will go where you hear the call of your heart and life to serve, in what I consider the best career on earth--nursing.

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