Service before self

From the time she was a little girl growing up in Titusville, Florida, UF College of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice student, Akia Davis, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, knew she would dedicate her life in service of others.

After seeing success as a college basketball player, Davis graduated from the College of St. Mary in Omaha, Nebraska, with her Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree, taking the first step to follow her passion. After a brief stint as nurse in an emergency department, she looked toward advancing her career. She ultimately decided to set her sights on a master’s nursing degree from the University of South Florida.

However, Davis knew that her love for helping others would not be able to stop at the bedside. In her last year of graduate school, she decided to join the United States Air Force Reserves and commissioned with the rank of second Lieutenant. For her, the gift of traveling to new locations to provide care for service members is the greatest honor and made the choice to commission even more worthwhile.

“It is the greatest honor,” Davis said. “God gave me the gift of being a nurse, and I intend to use that to serve my country.”

Davis then decided to push her clinical skills even further and pursue the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, or DNP, from the University of Florida while working as a nurse practitioner in internal medicine. For her, UF’s reputation for nursing excellence meant it was the only choice she could make in order to be the very best nurse she could be.

But just one year after she started her program — and 5,000 miles farther away from where she began her nursing journey — her life transformed forever.

Answering the Call

While in the second year of her DNP coursework in 2022, Davis was deployed overseas for the first time, where she took her responsibilities to new heights.

Aboard an aircraft, Davis was responsible for providing critical care to service members in the air while moving them to a different location. Through checking vitals, providing medication and communicating with ground crews, she ensured that each patient was ready to receive the next stage of care before landing.

In a few short months, her flight crew became like a second family. Constantly learning new skills, the team of seven traveled the world to evacuate members of the military to safety, with each day bringing more challenges than the last.

To Davis, the experience was just one more opportunity to help her nursing career, as well as her love for patient care, soar.

“I had to roll with the punches,” Davis said. “We never knew when a mission might pop up next, but I found myself connecting previous experiences at the bedside and in my classes with what was going on in the field. It all came together to help me become a better nurse for my patients.”

Balancing Act

As a graduate student nurse and a flight nurse in the U.S. Reserves, juggling her professional and academic duties was a balancing act. The time difference between Gainesville and her duty station, the location of which cannot be disclosed for security measures, made it difficult for her to submit assignments on time, as well as participate in class activities.

However, College of Nursing faculty and colleagues became her lifeline. Thanks to their flexibility during class time and positive encouragement, Davis said she was able to successfully finish her overseas semester, earning both straight As and a place on the Dean’s List.

The support she received from the rocks in her life — her flight crew, colleagues and family — made the unthinkable, possible. And according to Davis, they moved “heaven and earth” to make her dream of earning her DNP while in the military one step closer to a reality.

On homework days, at least one person stayed by Davis’ side either in-person or over the phone to encourage her and provide deadline reminders as she completed assignments into the late hours of the night. They remained her cheerleaders even when exams approached and she needed to cancel plans to make time to hit the books. She credits her success so far in the DNP program to their willingness to be flexible and lend a helping hand, whenever needed.

Two groups of people stand out as especially essential to her success: Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Rene Love, PhD, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP, who served as her biggest DNP advocate; and Davis’ family, who has been supportive of her career development and growth since the very first moment she decided to become a nurse.

“When we return from a deployment, service members typically receive ‘thank yous’ for our service. But in this case, I was the one thanking everyone who made huge adjustments in their lives to be my champions,” Davis said. “The love and support I received from everyone was unmatched, and I am truly appreciative. It’s like a village came together to help me support my country.”

Returning Home

Even after she returned from her deployment in summer 2022, Davis still lives by the motto of the Air Force Reserve: “Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.” Now back in Tampa finishing the final year of her DNP coursework before graduating in May 2023, Davis plans to continue striving for nursing excellence after graduation — this time, through becoming involved in health care policy.

After observing how the United States has seen extraordinary advances in medicine, public health and technology over her seven-year nursing career, Davis said she became motivated to help groups who have traditionally not had access to quality care. Finding policy solutions for health disparities is her new daily motivation, as well as a key focus in her current project for the DNP program.

No matter where she works or where she cares for patients, Davis knows that the different types of nursing she performs contribute to making a difference in the world. Through nursing, Davis believes she has changed lives, just as the profession has transformed her own.

“As a nurse, I save lives, but it’s those up-close and personal interactions that have given me so much purpose in life,” she said. “By giving me a reason to push through every day, these special moments have saved mine too.”