New Life, New Service, Same Passion – An Officer's Transformation from Active Duty U.S. Army Nurse Corps to the Commissioned Corps

LCDR Laura Hudson, Psychiatric Nurse Officer

In December of 2011, after 14 years as an active duty officer, MAJ Laura Hudson of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps became LCDR Laura Hudson of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps. A psychiatric nurse practitioner in both services, LCDR Hudson joked that, “The biggest difference is that it confused the heck out of my patients when I came back with a different uniform!” LCDR Hudson’s role is almost exclusively patient care; she sees about nine patients a day.

She is one of the USPHS officers assigned to Womack Army Medical Center (WAMC) at Fort Bragg in North Carolina as part of the ongoing agreement between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the USPHS to increase behavioral health services available to military service members, their families and veterans.

As she described it, this is not just prescribing patients medication, “but setting them up with the services they need, getting them a therapy appointment if they need it, referring them to different specialties if I think they need it, and acting as the first call for ward patient needs.”

One of the benefits of being a psychiatric nurse practitioner with the USPHS is that she’s been given opportunities to grow.

“I get the autonomy to do most of what the docs usually do,” she explained. “I don’t necessarily make the final decision, but often I will work with the social workers to determine whether it looks like we have an admission, and if we make that determination, I’ll confer with my doc, and if I get the thumbs up, I’ll go ahead and do the whole admission myself.”

“It’s quite a lot of responsibility, but it’s also really cool to know that I can manage that,” she said.

The majority of patients that WAMC serves are those just returning from deployments, many of whom have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other mental illnesses. As one of the largest military care facilities in the Nation, WAMC serves approximately 140,000 beneficiaries on a primary care basis, which places a high demand on behavioral health services, but makes for a great learning environment.

“If you want to learn while you’re practicing mental health, this particular site, Womack, Ft. Bragg, is a great place to be, because you see anything and everything,” Hudson said. “Whether you’re straight out of school or a veteran nurse practitioner, you’ll learn a lot, and it’s never boring.”

In addition to the professional opportunities, part of LCDR Hudson’s decision to join the Commissioned Corps was personal – she’s married to an active duty Army officer who is now on his fifth deployment. Several years ago, she and her husband were both deployed at the same time, which meant that her 18 month old daughter had to stay with her grandmother for five months. After two more children, LCDR Hudson decided that a change was needed.

“My boss at the time was a USPHS Commander, and she served sort of as my personal recruiter,” Hudson recounted.

“She talked to me a lot and let me know that the USPHS could offer me the stability I needed while allowing me to do almost identically the type of things I was doing as a psychiatric nurse in the Army. I looked into it, I applied, and it eventually worked out and it turned out to be an excellent fit for our family.”

A big advantage that she’s seen since joining the Commissioned Corps is the breadth of the different backgrounds represented. “It was cool to see the diversity of the people I was joining the Corps with – some former Army officers and some who were not at all,” she said. “We’ve been able to learn so much from each other.”

Reflecting on her own experiences thus far, LCDR Hudson encourages anyone considering a career as a psychiatric nurse with the Commissioned Corps to go for it.

“It’s always challenging – sometimes it can be a little draining, but it is incredibly meaningful work with a group of people that really care. It’s a great environment to work in.”