Camille F.A. Aiken

East Tennessee State University

Area of Study: Bachelors of Science in Nursing-Accelerated/Nursing
Military Branch: United States Air Force 
Years Served: 13.5 years
Highest Pay Grade: E6 in USAF to O-3 in the Public Health Service
MOS: Dental Hygienist 
Age: 39

Tell us about yourself:

I am originally from Jamaica, but moved to Bronx, New York City when I was nine years old.  However, being an island girl, I really did not like the city life so I left the city at my first chance and joined the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1998.  

I served 13.5 years in the USAF. This gave me the wonderful opportunity to live out my secret dream—traveling the world and obtaining a degree in dental hygiene.  Some of the places I lived or had extended visits to include: Italy, Guam, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Japan and Palau just to name a few.  I practiced dental hygiene for nine and a half years in the USAF and loved it immensely.  My most memorable moments was a dental mission trip to Ebeye, an island of the Marshall Island where I treated over 300 children in preventive dentistry.  I also worked with the Indian Health Services for 4.5 years for the 12 Confederate tribes of Colville in Washington State.

I have been married for nine years to a very loving and patient gentleman and we have a very lively and rambunctious four year old son. My favorite past time is reading.

What prompted you to return to school?

I returned to school because of my passion to take care of people.  It is my desire to eventually become a missionary health care provider and work alongside my husband in any mission field/under served community.  I especially love to take care of sick people and watch how their health improves.  My special interest, however, is caring for children between the ages of one and eighteen.

Why did you choose East Tennessee State University?

In truth my husband and I choose ETSU simply by praying about it.  I expressed to my husband my desire to care for people from a medical and dental perspective.  We then prayed about this and left it to God to answer.  We specifically asked: If this is was something we should do we would know our answer by receiving an acceptance letter from the one and ONLY school we would submit an application for.  We then researched several schools and selected ETSU because of the many positive features it possessed.  The most striking feature was the different branches of healthcare it had (e.g. Medical, Nursing, Public health and Pharmacy) and learning that all these programs had direct interactions with the community.  I got accepted to the accelerated nursing program and knew this was our answer.  So we packed up and drove across country from Washington State to Tennessee April 2016. I will be graduating in December 2017.

What military education benefits, such as the GI Bill, did you use?

To financially support my nursing education I am currently using the Post 9-11 GI bill.  This is a great help to my family, mainly because I am currently not working and this benefit really fills in a huge gap for us.

What has your experience been like as a student?

First, even though in the beginning it was a bit challenging to get into a routine of studying and taking care of a family, the faculty support is great.  Their objective is to ensure you do well, even if it means pushing you a little farther than you thought you could go.  While the studying is intense and the program is fast and rigorous, it is reassuring to know that everyone in the program is going through similar challenges and struggles.  This is where I have experienced the kind of support that reveals the caring side of people.  

Do you feel like your time in the military made you a better student?

I most definitely believe that my military experience has contributed to me being a better student.  In the military structure, organization, and dedication are highly emphasized.  These are traits that never left me.  As an accelerated student, the demands for studying for exams, applying critical thinking principles, and meeting the demands of school and family life requires the utilization of these traits.  Structure, organization and persistence/dedication is enabling me to remain motivated and meet these demands.  It’s almost like going through the most intense week in basic training and passing with flying colors.

What advice could you offer to other veterans choosing to pursue an education?

My advice to any veteran who is thinking about returning to school is to not delay in taking that first step.  It can be really overwhelming to take this first step even to the point of hesitating and doubting that it can be done.  But be assured that it can.  Once that first step is taken and the personal commitment is in place to always move forward, know that the hardest part of the decision has been made.  I would also advise them to only speak with those who are supporters to them returning to school.  Disregard the negative comments and doubts from others. Research all the resources that will enable you to go forward and know that nothing can stop you but you.  

Parting comment?

Be sure to have fun along the journey!