by Joelle Moran
The Army Nurse Corps is an army all its own.
The 3,900-strong group of nurses working around the globe to care for and support U.S. soldiers is like a family, a supportive team that takes care of its own, building careers and opening a world of opportunities.
Col. Sheri L. Ferguson is a prime example of the places you can go in the Army Nurse Corps.
Ferguson’s decorated 26-year career has taken her from the bedside of AIDS and HIV patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the Pentagon where she was the program manager for the military health system population health, Tricare management activity, as well as numerous assignments around the globe including being a consultant to the surgeon general. Now, Ferguson calls it an honor to serve as deputy commander for Health Services and Nursing at Evans Army Community Hospital in Fort Carson, Colorado, a position she’s held since June 2008.
“I love being here at Evans Army Community Hospital,” she said.
“It’s just an honor to be able to represent something that I have a passion for, which is Army medicine and nursing.”
Early in life, Ferguson knew she wanted to be nurse; her mother was a nurse and it was in her blood.
The military, however, was not. But one of her friends in nursing school at Indiana University was earning her degree on the GI Bill and planned to go back into the Army. Ferguson was asked to join her, an idea she first dismissed as crazy.
After deciding she could do anything for three years, Ferguson enlisted and started her military nursing career at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Her first assignment was as a clinical staff nurse, where she worked with AIDS and HIV-positive patients just as the epidemic was unfolding.
After fulfilling the first two years of her three-year commitment, Ferguson wanted to explore other nursing duties before deciding whether she wanted to stay in the Army. She went to Korea for a year, where she worked as an ER nurse for the 121st Evacuation Hospital in Yongsan.
“I loved it. I had never lived overseas,” she said. “By that third year, I knew that it (the Army) was what I wanted to do. I had seen enough to know that this is an organization with which I wanted to be associated. I felt proud to be working with soldiers and their family members.”
After she decided to stay in the Army, Ferguson knew exactly what she wanted: to be the chief nurse of a hospital. And the Army was the perfect place for her to launch her career full-speed ahead.
“I loved the opportunity to do new things wherever I went and the chance to advance in leadership positions much faster than my civilian counterparts,” she said.
Each of her Army assignments served as a stepping stone as she moved her way up the ranks to her current position as a deputy commander, especially her head nursing roles.
“If you do that (head nurse position) and do it well, you do well in the Army,” she said.
Working as head nurse at clinics in Italy and Germany prepared her for her work as a nurse advisor for the Captains Career Course at Fort Sam Houston, where she guided nurses who came through the officer advance course on their career moves.
It was one of many mentoring roles she’s enjoyed.
“I have the ability to encourage and mentor and role model behaviors and influence young nurses coming into the Army,” she said.
Along with mentoring comes teaching, which fits with the Army’s push for continuing education and career advancement.
For three years, Ferguson was director of an LPN School at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., where the Army put young medics through one year of nursing school. The position gave her a chance to share her wealth of nursing knowledge and education.
Ferguson’s educational credentials are extensive, including a BSN in Nursing in 1984 from Indiana University, a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Colorado in 1999, a Master of Science in Education from the University of Southern California in 1988, and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Colorado in 1999. She is also a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff
College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She is a Certified Medical-Surgical Nurse and is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International, the National Honor Society of Nursing. Ferguson is a member of the Army Nurse Corps Association, the Emergency Nurses Association and the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nursing.
From 2006 to 2009, Ferguson also served as the Medical Surgical Nurse Consultant to the U.S. Surgeon General. The surgeon general has consultants in each nursing specialty area, and she was nominated and elected for this area of expertise.
Serving as assistant chief nurse at a large medical center helped Ferguson develop the leadership skills she needed for her current role as a deputy commander for health services and nursing. At Fort Carson, she oversees at least 600 civilian and military nursing personnel as well as many other hospital departments, including medical management, quality support, risk management and patient safety, pharmacy and nutritional care.
As Ferguson worked her way to her current position, she earned numerous accolades for her service. Her awards and decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, six awards of the Meritorious Service Medal, four awards of the Army Commendation Medal, seven awards of the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon (with 3 Device).
She also earned the Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge and the prestigious 9A proficiency designator. Ferguson is a member of the Order of Military Medical Merit.
But Ferguson’s crowning achievement was making colonel in 2007.
“With that came this position and I’m proud to be deputy commander of a large MEDDAC and the many changes and growth and expansion of Fort Carson,” she said. “It has been tremendous and I’m very proud of that.”
For nurses just starting their careers, Ferguson said the benefits of joining the Army Nurse Corps are numerous--travel, flexibility, education, health and retirement benefits, opportunity.
But more than anything, the chance to serve and be part of a team are second to none.
“I would say that they (new nurses) would be mentored and precepted in a way that they would really learn a lot from the beginning, and would feel like they’re taken care of,” she said.
But Ferguson cautions that to make it as a military nurse, you have to be flexible and thrive on change.
“I think it’s important to have a desire to grow and to learn.
You have upward mobility the whole time you’re in the Army; you’re not just a nurse, you’re an officer,” she said. “It’s a rank thing in the Army. You have to be willing to lead people.”
Col. Sheri L. Ferguson is deputy commander for Health Services and Nursing at Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado.