Iraq War veteran becomes nurse practitioner in mental health
The first two months of a military deployment are always the hardest, said Harmony Acker, a 12-year Navy veteran and recent graduate of the College of Nursing. She spent a collective three years as a fleet hospital nurse during the “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and “Operation Enduring Freedom” missions in Kuwait.
“It’s scary, because you don’t know what to expect,” said Acker, a commissioned officer who also deployed to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and has received a Navy Commendation Medal for meritorious service. “You feel like you’re gone from your life at home.”
Being gone is even more heart-wrenching when you have a 15-month-old son, as Acker did. Fortunately, she could count on family to care for him while she was away. Now that she also has a 3-year-old daughter and 15-year-old stepson, Acker is grateful for her life as a civilian nurse.
She’s also grateful for her MS in the family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Norfolk State University while enlisted in the military and had always planned to further her education after her military service.
“This is a great school, and I’ve always known that, because I grew up here,” said Acker, who was born in Denver and grew up in Grand Junction. “I knew if there was an opening [in the family psych program], I’d want to apply.”
She’s been pleased with her CU Anschutz experience.
“The customer service is really good here. I’ve never had any administrative problems,” she said. “And the faculty are really invested in student growth—which is good, because this is a hard program.”
While pursuing her master’s degree, Acker has worked full-time at the Mental Health Center of Denver, the largest facility of its kind in Colorado, and she’s continuing to work there after graduation. She likes helping people and enjoys her work for the center, but the transition from military to civilian career has been tricky at times.
She missed the reliable structure and solid community of the military. At first, she arrived 15 minutes early to every meeting—and found herself alone. She always felt over-dressed and couldn’t understand why her colleagues marveled at her efficiency. She soon realized that things were different in the civilian world but that much of her military training gave her an edge.
“[In the military,] they groom you to believe that hard work and discipline pay off, that you need to be a leader and develop a personality built on sacrifice and hard work.”
Perhaps it’s this hard work and discipline that helped Acker win the university’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Scholarship two semesters in a row.
This decorated student veteran has advice for other service women and men considering furthering their education: