How A Tragic Fall Inspired a Life’s Calling

November 3, 2023

Briana Sachner, veteran student

In the grand tapestry of life, one's calling often emerges not as a linear path but as a series of transformative moments. Briana Sachner's journey from a young student to a dedicated nurse is a testament to the power of inspiration, perseverance, and a deep desire to make a difference in the lives of others.

Briana's journey into nursing was set into motion during one of her early assignments as a Navy Sailor. On one of her first times going underway on a naval ship, she found herself standing watch, awaiting an underway replenishment evolution. It was during this routine operation that a pivotal incident unfolded, changing the course of her life. A fellow quartermaster, engaged in changing the ship's flags, got tangled in the ropes and was pulled up to the ship's highest deck. “His hands were broken on impact, and he fell three decks and landed on his back in front of me,” she recalled. “I held his cervical spine in place like I was taught during emergency drills and screamed for help.”   

Her urgent call for help reverberated through the ship's corridors, summoning the expertise of corpsmen, nurses, and the ship's surgeon. Witnessing their swift and coordinated response, Briana was struck by the grace and precision with which they managed the situation. It was a moment of revelation and inspiration, and it marked the turning point in her life. From that day forward, she knew she wanted to dedicate her career to the field of medicine, to be the kind of compassionate and efficient healthcare professional she had witnessed in that high-pressure situation.

When it came time to choose the right nursing program, Briana's decision was swift and sure: The George Washington University (GW). What set GW apart was not just the program's prestige but the welcoming community of veterans that embraced her amongst the faculty, staff, and students. “There’s a level of confusion when I tell working professionals in the health care field that I was a Hospital Corpsman in the Navy,” she said. “It’s easy to assume the job is closely related to that of a medical assistant or certified nurse assistant. It’s so much more than that, and I knew there was a community waiting for me at GW who understood.”

“It’s easy to assume the job is closely related to that of a medical assistant or certified nurse assistant. It’s so much more than that, and I knew there was a community waiting for me at GW who understood.”

As Briana embarked on her nursing journey at GW, she encountered a heartwarming and memorable experience that would define her educational experience. During her first semester, she had the privilege of working with a group of lab partners who shared not only a pursuit of nursing but also motherhood, veteran status, and the challenges of balancing family life while navigating the rigorous demands of the nursing program. Together, they formed a tight-knit community of women who shared laughter, wisdom, and an unbreakable bond. In that group, Briana found a sense of belonging and felt seen and understood in her unique journey.

One of the most translatable skills that Briana carried with her from her military service into her nursing career is the art of communication. Her experiences in the military, from a seaman on the deck plates to various roles on ships and in hospitals as a Hospital Corpsman, instilled in her the importance of effective communication. It was a skill honed through interactions with colleagues, superiors, patients, and caretakers alike.

When asked about the most critical issue facing nurses today, Briana pointed to compassion fatigue. She emphasized that the demanding nature of the nursing profession, combined with the often-thankless nature of the job, can lead to burnout and a decrease in empathy for patients. “I don’t know what the fix for this is, but I know the more you take care of yourself outside of your job—read books, love on your family, exercise, eat well—the greater capacity you will have to care deeply about your patients and their loved ones.”

Briana's advice to future nurses is both practical and profound: ask questions. Whether it's to better understand the rationale behind a patient's medication, to question established policies, or to seek answers to patients' queries. “As nurses, we should always be seeking to improve and give the best care possible, and I believe that only happens when we’re willing to ask questions.”

Briana's journey from the Navy to the world of nursing is a story of inspiration, community, and an unyielding commitment to excellence in healthcare. Her experiences in the military have equipped her with invaluable skills and perspectives that she carries into her nursing career. Through her dedication to self-care and the unwavering commitment to asking questions, she embodies the qualities of a nurse who makes a meaningful impact on the lives of her patients.