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KSLA Salutes: Army sergeant studying to be a nurse

Army Sgt. Rodolfo Esparza, left, is congratulated by Dr. Linda Nichols, coordinator of nursing...
Army Sgt. Rodolfo Esparza, left, is congratulated by Dr. Linda Nichols, coordinator of nursing on Northwestern State University’s Leesville/Fort Polk campus, for his acceptance into the Army AMEDD Enlisted Commissioned Program.(Northwestern State University)
Published: Dec. 24, 2021 at 9:22 PM CST
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FORT POLK, La. (KSLA) - Sgt. Rodolfo Esparza has been working hard towards his nursing degree on top of serving his country in the United States Army.

“What got me into the Army is I wanted to find more purpose in life,” Esparza said. “I always wanted to do medical and they offered me a job where they actually send you to school and get your licensed practical nurse licensure through the Army so I found that very rewarding. That actually opened my mind to pursue nursing further.”

Recently, the El Paso, Texas native was accepted into the Army Medical Department Enlisted Commissioned Program. This program provides eligible Active Duty, Reserve, National Guard or Activated Guard Reserve Army Soldiers the opportunity to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and receive a commission in the Active Duty component of the Army Nurse Corps.

While being stationed at Fort Polk, Esparza takes classes at NSU’s Leesville/Fort Polk campus. He first heard about their program three years ago.

“I always thought it was an impossible feat,” said Esparza. “I always strive to continue my education and my first step was attaining my LVN license through the Army. That paved the way for me to work towards getting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. What I have been able to take away from my studies is learning more about what is going to be expected of me as a nurse. As far as my Army career, discipline and being resilient in a lot of situations.”

His biggest inspiration? His mom.

“She is a pharmacy tech,” said Esparza. “I think that’s what gave me the drive to go towards the medical field. She is a big part of my life and I just want to follow her footsteps. She is extremely proud. I wouldn’t be here without her support. She is always by my side and continues to be there every time I need her.”

Esparza says he feels nursing is one way to expand his service.

“I want to pursue nursing because I know I can continue to serve my country by taking care of those who might be in the worst time of their lives,” said Esparza, who has been on active duty for five and a half years. “I find that very rewarding that I can have the ability to make that impact on people’s lives.”

Participants retain their rank, grade and military benefits while participating in the program. Participation is limited to 24 consecutive months of enrollment. After the soldier graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and passes the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX), they report to the Direct Commissioning Course at Fort Sill, Okla. and will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. They then report to Basic Office Leadership Course in San Antonio.

NSU’s BSN program meets all program requirements for Army Enlisted Commissioned Program which are: the institution must not charge the Army more than $15,000 per academic year; the nursing school must be accredited through either Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education and must have an NCLEX pass rate of 90 percent or higher within the last three consecutive years.

Northwestern State is accredited by both organizations. Other requirements are that all classes must be taught in English; the program must be completed in 24 months and the nursing school must be within at least 100 miles of a Military Treatment Facility of any branch of service.

Esparza said military service has provided him with better opportunities.

“I was working two jobs helping my mother with bills and I wanted more purpose in life,” he said. “I also wanted to challenge myself and prove that I can serve my country in the best way I can in the military.”

He said the faculty and staff at NSU have worked to prepare him for future endeavors.

“Northwestern’s nursing program and staff have made my experience as a student very clear,” said Esparza, “They reassured me that their accredited program meets the Army strict regimen when it comes the AECP program. From my nursing advisors and my military liaison, I don’t think I could have chosen a better university to help me get to the next chapter in my life.”

Esparza’s next step: heading to Shreveport to start school in January, hopefully graduate in 2023, and become a commissioned officer as a registered nurse in the Army.

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