A passion for service: From the military to nursing
Matt Baxter’s dream of receiving his B.S.N. came true as he celebrated graduating from Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) on August 8.
Prior to attending Illinois State, Baxter attended Western Illinois University and earned a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement and justice administration. He initially wanted a career with the military and as a police officer, but after fighting a battle with a life-threatening illness he changed his career path to nursing.
After high school, Baxter enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard and was trained as a military police officer.
“I served from November 2000 through November 2009 in the 333rd Military Police Company out of Freeport, Illinois,” said Baxter. “I was deployed to Iraq with my unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in April 2003. I was in Iraq for 15 months and returned home with my unit in July 2004.”
When he decided to pursue a career in nursing, one of the biggest influences in his decision was his own personal experiences as a cancer patient.
“I was initially diagnosed in July 2006, and it is strongly believed that I got sick from serving in Iraq,” he said. “My unit deployed to Afghanistan in October 2008, but I was unable to go with because I was in the hospital for three months battling a severe relapse of the cancer that nearly took my life. I was able to recover my strength and managed to return to my unit in early 2009 and achieve the rank of staff sergeant before receiving an honorable discharge.”
His time in Iraq helped him cultivate a strong mentality about never quitting and never accepting defeat.
“I acknowledge that there are just some things in life that we don’t have any control over, yet I have never allowed myself to be anything but driven and dedicated to succeed and live the life that I know that I am still capable of living.”
Baxter is passionate about helping others in need and selfless-service. His first experiences with helping those in need came during his nine years of service in the Illinois Army National Guard. Prior to deploying to Iraq in 2003 with his military police unit, Baxter volunteered to receive additional medical training and serve as his squad’s Combat Lifesaver (CLS) and supplement their platoon’s Combat Medic.
“As a CLS I was equipped to provide care to the wounded, injured, and sick until they were able to get to more definitive care. It was an honor being able to provide this additional support to those I served with,” he said.
Many years later Baxter decided to pursue a license as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
“I have worked on a volunteer ambulance service for over three years now, and have really enjoyed caring for people in a pre-hospital setting in an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) role.”
During his time working as an EMT whenever possible, he liked the exposure to the Emergency Department (ED). “The process of bringing patients into the ED and transferring care over to ED staff has been good experience that will prove invaluable during my future career in nursing.”
When Baxter could no longer serve in the military, he started exploring options for nursing school. During his many difficult and heart-breaking hospitalizations, he encountered several amazing nurses that had a positive impact on his holistic care.
“There were very difficult moments throughout the years, and those nurses have always been the ones that truly helped me through them,” he said. “For this reason I felt that I would find a career in nursing extremely rewarding, and I genuinely want to be that great nurse for other patients in their times of need. I remember my experiences and know just how big a difference a good nurse can make on his/her patients’ and their families’ lives.”
The Accelerated B.S.N. at MCN is an intense 15-month program that provides a unique opportunity for those committed to the profession of nursing to earn a second bachelor’s degree.
“I choose to get my degree from Mennonite College of Nursing because I had always heard that it was a great nursing school and it offered a B.S.N. which I knew was what I wanted. Since my acceptance into the program, I have been very impressed with everything that this nursing school has had to offer. In my opinion, the most challenging part of the program was the intensity of the curriculum, especially in the two summer semesters.
“By taking this program on one day at a time, I was able to prioritize tasks and managed to successfully complete all program requirements to graduate and earn a B.S.N.,” he said.
Baxter is currently preparing for his NCLEX-RN exam, and after he receives his license he would like to work in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago.
“I have family and friends that live in that area and being near them would be important to me,” said Baxter. “Ideally I really want to begin my nursing career in an Emergency Department (ED). My experiences in the Army and also as an EMT have made me capable of remaining calm and performing effectively under extreme stress events.”
Editor’s note: Two weeks prior to his graduation, Matt found out his cancer returned. For those who would like to send him a note of encouragement and support, please send to the following address and we will forward to Matt:
Illinois State University
Matt Baxter c/o MCN PR Office
Campus Box 5810
Normal, IL 61790-5810