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Before becoming a nurse, Dan Lorden served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, commonly known as the Green Berets.
As a member of the elite unit, he had to be disciplined, make split decisions under pressure, and work on little sleep. All of it prepared him to go back to school to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) while staying busy as a new dad.
Lorden and his wife, Elizabeth, had two children during his time in UNC Greensboro’s doctor of nursing practice (DNP) nurse anesthesia program. Their daughter, Amelia, is almost two years old, and their son, Benjamin, was born on July 13.
Lorden, who earned his bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from UNCG in 2016, graduated for the second time from the School of Nursing on Aug. 4. He heard his name called as he walked across the stage at the School of Nursing’s nurse anesthesia graduation ceremony inside the UNCG Auditorium.
“I compare everything through the lens of the hard military training I did,” said Lorden, who’ll turn age 36 in September. “I went through the Special Forces’ medical sergeants course, which is considered one of the most academically challenging courses for enlisted military members. I would say it’s that and nuclear power school, and that’s pretty much it.
“Having done both, I would say this (CRNA program) has been in some ways significantly harder than Special Forces training. Primarily academically, but also it’s just so long and you never get a break. There were portions of SF training that were acutely academically more difficult, and that isn’t mentioning all the physical stuff. Both Special Forces training and my anesthesia education have fundamentally changed me as a person.”
Dr. Terry Wicks, one of Lorden’s nurse anesthesia professors, also served in the Army. He left the military in 1992 after serving as an enlisted soldier and a commissioned officer for 13 years active-duty and four years in the U.S. Army Reserves, including as a captain in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.
Wicks served as the keynote speaker at the nurse anesthesia graduation ceremony.
“Dan told us during his interview (for the DNP program) that he had served in the Special Forces, and right away I felt he would be successful in our program,” Wicks said. “Since then, Dan has met our program’s challenges and shown he will be a valued team member who respects others and remains calm and patient-focused during even the most difficult times in the operating room.”
As a kid, Lorden knew he wanted to join the military like other members of his family. His father worked as a nuclear reactor operator on a U.S. Navy submarine, and both of his grandfathers served in the Navy as well.
Lorden said his hope was to someday become a fighter pilot, but he was forced to change his plans because of astigmatism that disqualified him from flying. He decided to enlist in the U.S. Army at age 18, fresh out of high school, and start training to join the Special Forces.
He could have been assigned any number of jobs in the Special Forces, including as an engineer or a weapons specialist, but he wanted to work in a medical role.
“It was a little out of nowhere because I was kind of squeamish with blood and stuff in high school. I was never into gory movies or any of that stuff that you’d think,” Lorden said. “I wanted something that would help me when I got out (of the Army), so I asked to specialize as a medic.”
After getting discharged from the Army, Lorden was looking to enroll in nursing school when a family friend heard School of Nursing faculty member Dr. Susan Letvak talking about UNCG’s Veterans Access Program (VAP) during a National Public Radio interview.
The VAP provides military veterans, active reservists, and active-duty military the support to earn their BSN. Lorden was part of the School of Nursing’s first VAP cohort in 2015, and with his extensive medical background in the Special Forces, he was able to accelerate through the BSN program.
“To this day I still talk about Dan, who ‘paved the way’ and helped make our VAP program the tremendous success it is today,” said Letvak, who served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves. “I am so proud of Dan, who chose to return to UNCG for his certified registered nurse anesthetist/DNP program, and it will be an honor to soon call him Dr. Lorden.”
Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina Greensboro
Photography courtesy of Dan Lorden