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    A Nursing Story: Answering the Call to Serve One Patient at a Time

    A Nursing Story: Answering the Call to Serve One Patient at a Time

    Photo By James Black | U.S. Army Maj. Abigail Cooper, Nursing Service Chief, inside the Medical Care...... read more read more



    Story by James Black 

    Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

    Growing up, U.S. Army Major Abigail Cooper played hard and exceled in many sports - but apparently - never learned to tuck and roll, resulting in multiple injuries requiring stitches and the setting of broken bones.
    “The thing I remember about the trips to the hospital are that I was never scared, but always intrigued,” recalled Cooper – amazed by how friendly and attentive the nurses were, despite her frequent visits. “After that, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in health care.”

    Small Town, Big Dreams

    Cooper attributes much of her early success in life to attending Saint Francis University in Loretta, Pennsylvania. “It’s a smaller university, but their nursing school is highly regarded, and the smaller class sizes meant the professors had a vested interest in the success of each student,” reflected Cooper. Those professors kept her focused on her studies, despite her enthusiasm for competitive cheerleading and desire to pay down her tuition by working two jobs. “They pulled me aside to help me set my priorities straight,” Cooper emphasized.

    Becoming more agile at managing her time and commitments paved the way for Cooper to excel during Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), a century old college program offered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities across the United States - preparing young adults to become officers in the U.S. military.

    Operation Enduring Freedom: Elevating Enroute Care in Afghanistan and Beyond

    At Cooper’s first duty station in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Cpt. April Ritter demanded personal and professional excellence, requiring nurses to lead by example to save the lives of America’s warfighters.

    For Cooper and a new wave of Enroute Critical Care Nurses (ECCN), Operation Enduring Freedom changed the landscape, reimagining the way the way global combat damage-control surgery and evacuations were organized and executed. As a result, the Department of Defense’s medical community became more adept at managing assets for multi-surgeries along the continuum of care up to and including transportation all the way back to Walter Reed and Joint Base San Antonio, two of the best military hospitals in the world.

    Walter Reed: A Dream Realized

    After years of honing her craft on assignments in the Middle East and Europe, Cooper arrived at Walter Reed poised to share her energy and insight, overcoming a nursing staff shortage, and keeping morale high in the aftermath of COVID-19. She credits U.S. Army Col. Mike Belenky and U.S. Army Col. Wendy Woodall, the new director of for nursing services and chief nursing officer at Walter Reed, for championing the needs of the nursing staff.

    Cooper, who is Walter Reed’s nursing service chief, understands the weight of expectations that come with working at the world’s most revered military hospital. “My days are long, but my commitment runs deep,” explained Cooper. On any given day, she oversees the morning change of shift huddle, conducts rounds to discuss plans of care for each patient, and attends a mix of administrative meetings.

    “I’ve always enjoyed being immersed in the behind-the-scenes details that make a command successful,” volunteered Cooper. Whether she’s writing commendations or reviewing schedules, Cooper makes a point of checking in each day with the assistant service chief and the non-commissioned officer in charge to have a “touchpoint to discuss the next day’s plan.”

    Maintaining Physical and Emotional Resilience

    For Cooper – and scores of health care professionals – finding personal happiness outside the military and nursing prevents emotional burnout. “I do the things that bring me joy – run with our dogs, do CrossFit three times a week, and go on dates with my fiancé,” confided Cooper. The incurable romantic practices good habits to remain physically, mentally, and emotionally fit.

    Maintaining a healthy work-life harmony empowers Cooper to think clearly, balance nursing staff and patient ratios – while promoting a safe environment for staff and service members. Cooper’s peers say she’s successfully transitioned from beside nursing to an administrative role mentoring Army, Navy, and Air Force nurses.

    One of the highlights of her career was having her six-year-old niece pin on her credentials during her promotion ceremony when she became a major. Cooper credits her success to her family, mentors and colleagues who have invested the time and energy to prepare her to lead. “Each day, I try to pay it forward to benefit our patients and my team.”



    Date Taken: 08.23.2023
    Date Posted: 08.23.2023 12:52
    Story ID: 451980
    Location: BETHESDA, MD, US

    Web Views: 140
    Downloads: 2