Gator Nurse Veterans: A Dedication to Service

By: Anna Hoffman

Gator Nurses from every generation are represented throughout the military, taking advantage of the numerous opportunities available to nurses. Alumnus David Kerschner (BSN ‘77), recent Accelerated BSN graduate Ryan Audley (BSN ’21) and current faculty member Michael Maymi (DNP ’16) share how their experiences as veterans shaped them into the nurses they are now.

A life of service

A Vietnam veteran, Kerschner served in the Army between 1970 and 1973. During that time, he was a corpsman on the psychiatric wards, where he worked with several male nurse officers. These positive role models led to his interest in nursing as a career. Post-service, he remained in the Army Reserves as he achieved his goal of attending the University of Florida College of Nursing on the G.I. Bill.  

One of his fonder memories from UF is re-establishing the Student Nursing Association and serving as its president.

Following graduation, Kerschner was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps and served in the reserves until 1982. During that time, he earned his MSN as a family nurse practitioner from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, then transferred his commission over to the U.S. Public Health Service, where he actively served for 27 years.

With the Public Health Service, Kerschner said he was deployed to places across the country where he was needed the most to care for individuals in underserved communities. His first assignment was the Navajo Nation, a Native American territory in Arizona. As a public health nurse, he traveled the countryside to visit with people in their homes, checking in and evaluating them. He also served as the community health services director in a small Indian Health Service’s clinic in eastern Oregon.

Throughout his time in the Public Health Service, Kerschner rose through the ranks and worked in several other Public Health Service roles, including federal disaster preparedness and response. Kerschner’s numerous responses included hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy, the postal service Anthrax exposures and Deep Water Horizon.  In 1995, he retired at the rank of captain.

“I chose the nursing profession because I realized early on there are so many opportunities for nurses,” Kerschner said. “At the risk of sounding cliché, it really was my privilege and pleasure to spend 37 years in uniform serving this country and its people.”

Redefining fate

Ryan Audley started his career in the U.S. Air Force with the dream of becoming a pararescueman, a highly trained specialist who focuses on search-and-rescue efforts and combat medicine. Audley trained physically for years, completed his first bachelor’s degree in Health Science, Emergency and Critical Care from Stony Brook University, and was in the early stages of the rigorous selection process. But he was devastated when he tore the labrum tissue in his right shoulder and was unable to continue.

The bad news continued as he then found out the Air Force was sending him to aircraft maintenance school, where he would learn the basics of becoming an avionics technician.

Audley believed he would be doomed to a future of disappointment in the military but found working on aircraft actually came naturally to him. It was on his second deployment to the Middle East with his maintenance unit that he met a major who would forever change his career trajectory.

The major was a critical care nurse and a member of a Special Operations Surgical Team.

“We talked for a while, and my excitement about this career field grew,” Audley said. “I knew then that my dream of becoming a combat medic was not over. I read a lot about becoming a nurse and realized that it was the best of both worlds. I could go to school, learn invaluable skills and apply them for the rest of my life.”

Audley attended the College of Nursing’s Accelerated BSN program, receiving the MSC Patriot Award for students affiliated to the military. He graduated in August and is now working as surgical intensive care unit nurse at UF Health. He hopes to hone his skills as a nurse for a few years before applying for the chance to operate with a Special Operations Surgical Team.

“Nursing has taught me that compassion and looking out for people are sometimes overlooked but can be the simplest things to give to someone,” Audley said. “A helping hand can be all it takes to turn someone in a positive direction.”

From service to leadership

When Clinical Assistant Professor Michael Maymi, DNP, APRN, CPNP-AC, CCRN, CNE, encounters nursing students interested in joining the service, he provides open insight to what the Navy can offer. Having joined the College of Nursing’s faculty in 2019, Maymi draws on so much of what he learned during his time in the military to teach nursing skills, knowledge and how to provide compassionate care.

He currently serves as the track coordinator for the pediatric acute care and pediatric primary care BSN-to-DNP nurse practitioner tracks. Prior to his career in nursing, he served in the U.S. Navy between 1990 and 1994 on active duty. Having completed Fleet Marine Force Corpsman training to provide immediate medical care to combat Marines, he was deployed for five months during the Gulf War.

Maymi was part of the Battalion Aid Station medical support, working to triage patients, assist the surgeon in the operating room, perform daily sick calls, and complete any other needed medical support for the Marines in his unit.

Although he was not a nurse before entering the Navy, working as a hospital corpsman with influential nurses and nurse practitioners helped him make the decision to pursue nursing.

Now, he says he uses many of the skills he learned in the service to be a good provider and teacher. Not only does he inspire the next generation of nurse practitioners, Maymi also serves as a leader. In July, he began a two-year term as the chairman of the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, the leading national nonprofit organization for certifying nursing professionals who provide care to children and adolescents. As chairman, he leads board members through projects that will improve the organization’s innovation, such as implementing new competencies for recertification, expanding global outreach in pediatric nursing specialties and addressing current issues like pediatric mental health care ethics.

As he continues to expand his leadership, service and teaching roles, Maymi reflects on the similarities between the Navy and the nursing profession.

“In the military, you follow very strict protocols, direct line to a chain of command and have many leadership opportunities,” he said. “Nursing is very similar in that we have evidence-based protocols and practice guidelines to direct how we care for our patients. Nurses also have many leadership responsibilities for ancillary staff, patients and families. I cannot say enough of how proud I am of my colleagues and students who have served in the military. I want each of the to know that I thank them for their service.”