1/10/2012 8:35 AM
photo: John Maniaci/UW Hospital and Clinics
Cottage Grove, WI
Veteran of the U.S. Army Rangers, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Trauma and Life Support Center, UW-Health, University of Wisconsin Hospital & Clinics
When you think “nursing student,” it’s entirely possible Jason Diaz ’10 wouldn’t come to mind. The Cottage Grove, Wis. native has traveled quite a road to get to where he is today, one that has challenged him in ways most of us will never experience.
Diaz was in the U.S. Army Rangers for more than eight years, and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He says he’s always been interested in the medical field (his mother works in healthcare in Madison) but didn’t serve as a medic in the military. Rather, he was a squad leader, in charge of the lives of nine soldiers. And it was while he was deployed in Iraq that one experience in particular set him on the path that lead to him to the College.
On one particular mission, he says, one of his fellow soldiers was badly wounded in a firefight. “I didn’t panic,” he recalls. “I just reacted in a way that seemed like second-nature.” Diaz was able to help keep his comrade alive long enough to reach safety and medical care.
“I had the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with doctors, nurses and patients of different races, cultures and religious backgrounds. Through these interactions in a fragile and hostile environment, I have learned to look past and adapt to difference on many levels in order to achieve a common goal,” he says. All the soldiers in his squad returned home from their tour. “That’s one thing I’m very proud of. The nine guys I went over there with – nobody came home with a scratch. They were all alright when they got home – that was the promise I made to each one of their mothers before I left.”
After his military service, Diaz started his next steps at a large public university, but says “something about it wasn’t compatible with me and my learning style.” A friend suggested Edgewood College.
He transferred, came for his first semester, and says “it was the best thing I ever did.” A smaller community was exactly what he was looking for. “The biggest surprise for me when I came here, my first class the instructor gave me his home phone number, and said ‘any questions, any time, give me a call. Just as long as it’s not during my favorite show,’ and that blew my mind.”
Diaz says the value of his decision to come to the College shows in his GPA. “To me that was the deciding factor – this was the fit for me.” And it is his academic performance – and his life experience – that makes him a perfect fit for the College’s very selective Nursing program.
“Going through this program can be intimidating for some,” Diaz says. “There’s a lot of work at certain times in the field itself. People are depending on you. So I think the way I handle myself and approach things – people can tell that I’ve had life experiences that have trained me to be in this situation.”
But it was his experience in a setting far-removed from armed conflict that taught his greatest life-lesson so far. During the past decade, both his parents have faced life-threatening illness. Diaz says they are both still with us, thanks in no small part to the service of those he hopes to join.
“The nurses who cared for my parents were a blessing. They lifted my mom when she was especially weak and sad just by holding her hand, and applauded my dad when he completed the smallest task, bringing him a sense of accomplishment. Their compassion for life and their willingness to sacrifice their own feelings by becoming part of our family gave my father, and the rest of my family, the strength to succeed. Throughout this personal experience, I have come to realize that I didn’t choose nursing, nursing chose me.”