As a veteran of the U.S. Army, Michael Lewis looked to the Department of Veterans Affairs as an option to start his nursing career when finished with his bachelor’s degree from South Dakota State University’s College of Nursing. Lewis, a native of Fennville, Michigan, graduated earlier this month after completing his coursework at the college’s Rapid City site.
When talking to a VA recruiter about a mental health position, Lewis was asked if he was interested in applying for the organization’s postbaccalaureate nurse residency program.
While he was familiar with other nurse residency programs and their benefits, he was enticed by the VA program since its one-year program would also allow him to work with fellow veterans. As a result, the former medic applied and will be one of 10 individuals starting at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System in August. While there is not a specific program for mental health, Lewis has been told the system will try to get him some experience in that area.
“I want to be the best prepared nurse that I can possibly be. I hope to complete the program and achieve its goal of developing excellent, caring nurses for veterans and families,” Lewis said. “I believe this opportunity to be another step toward nursing excellence.”
He was unsure about the exclusivity of the VA program until a classmate made a presentation on nurse residency programs.
“I didn’t grasp the gravity of it until that presentation. There are not a lot of accredited residencies like this one,” said Lewis, who was inducted in the Mortar Board and Sigma Theta Tau honor societies. He was also a student ambassador for the college and served as secretary for the Student Nurses’ Association Rapid City site chapter.
The exclusivity of Lewis being selected was not lost on Russ Chavez, SDSU’s director for Veterans Affairs.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Michael for his selection in this program,” said Chavez. “I got to know Michael through his application and then selection for the Flatlanders Militiamen Scholarship, which he received for his volunteerism and other community activities. He also attended our second-annual veterans retreat in 2019. His dedication and commitment to helping others will enable him to succeed wherever his nursing career takes him.”
Lewis received the Flatlanders Militiamen Scholarship, which is designed to assist veterans and/or their families who are need of financial assistance, in fall 2018.
“I’m so grateful for that scholarship. Those guys definitely helped me through a tough time during my schooling,” Lewis said.
Lewis is also grateful for everything done by Christina Plemmons, the assistant dean for the college’s Rapid City site.
“When I found out, I had to send Dr. Plemmons a sincere thank you for her letter of recommendation,” Lewis said. “I credit this opportunity to Dr. Plemmons and the great program for future nurses here in Rapid City. She started influencing me as an instructor during prerequisites. She made a very meaningful impression; always professional and personable. She is a role model for the nursing students who are in and those who have not yet entered the program.
“I sincerely believe I was able to stand out as an applicant with a nursing degree from SDSU. The extracurricular activities available through the school strengthened my resume,” he continued. “With the support and influence of exceptional leaders like Dr. Plemmons, I was able to successfully navigate the selection process.”
Plemmons recalls Lewis when he was completing his pre-nursing courses.
“Michael’s coursework revealed his commitment to learning, self-reflection and self-awareness—three important attributes for a future professional nurse,” she said. “Since his admission to the College of Nursing Rapid City Site Standard Program, Michael has balanced the rigor of nursing school with student volunteer opportunities.”