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Getting Real: Nursing Today

White House Nurses Serve the First Family

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President Obama and the first family need healthcare, just like the rest of us. Have you ever wondered who helps provide that care for the president? Meet the White House Medical Unit.

President Obama and the first family need healthcare, just like the rest of us. Have you ever wondered who helps provide that care for the president? Since the Civil War, the military nurses who care for the first and second families are members of the White House Medical Unit (WHMU). The WHMU is comprised of a team of 20-30 active duty physicians, medics and registered nurses. They are responsible for the medical needs of the White House staff and visitors, such as foreign dignitaries.

According to The New York Times, the White House medical office is only steps away from the Oval Office. Members of the WHMU travel with the president everywhere, to guarantee he or she is never far away from care. They will plan for emergencies in whatever location the president is traveling, plotting out access to a Level One Trauma Care Center, in case of an emergency.

In order to serve on the WHMU, military healthcare workers are chosen through their branch of service. The head of the unit, chosen by the president, is called the “Physician in Chief.” Nurses typically serve a two-year term. In order to become a member, nurses must have a background in emergency and trauma care.

To learn more about what it is like to have this unique nursing career, we interviewed army nurse Cpt. Betty Moore about her experience as a nurse in the White House. Moore decided to join the military because she wanted to do what she loved – nursing – while serving her country. She knew her military nursing career would lead to work on the frontlines of battle, but she wasn’t expecting to also be the nurse to the president. Although a lot of her experiences as a WHMU nurse are classified, she was able to share a little bit about the high-stakes, fast-paced world of providing care for the Commander-in-Chief.

NN
Can you share a little bit more about your nursing career trajectory? How did you end up at the White House Medical Unit (WHMU)?
Betty

I enlisted as a combat medic in the Army National Guard when I was a senior in high school. Once I was in nursing school, I received a ROTC scholarship and became a commissioned officer after graduation. I've worked as a bedside nurse and as a nurse leader at three military medical centers and deployed to Iraq twice.

NN
In brief, what are your responsibilities as a WHMU nurse?
Betty

I provide nursing care for the first family, second family and all of their staff members.

NN
How does your nurse training and military training prepare you for this job?
Betty

My training has prepared me tremendously for any job. Critical care or emergency room nursing background is a prerequisite to be on the WHMU. It's also helpful if the person has worked in a primary care clinic. I've worked in an aid station, pediatrics, adult medical-surgical floors, intensive care units and as a commander. I'm very outgoing too so that's helpful for this job!

NN
Can you tell me about an experience while serving at the WHMU that is particularly memorable to you?
Betty

This question is tough because every day is memorable for different reasons. I really enjoyed the Christmas parties because the decorations in the White House are breathtaking.

NN
Who is “the modern nurse?” What does that phrase or description mean to you?
Betty

The modern nurse is someone who incorporates their passion for people's wellbeing and evidence-based practice. This nurse can think critically and provide safe, effective nursing care in any situation.

NN
 Any advice for anyone considering becoming a military nurse?
Betty

I would highly recommend joining the military for at least four years. If you don't like it, at least you can say you tried. I always said I would do it until it wasn't fun anymore. I've been in for almost 13 years and I can't imagine doing anything else.

NN
What’s next for you? Do you want to stay involved in military nursing?
Betty

I'm hoping to get accepted into a family nurse practitioner program and stay in the Army until retirement.

NN
Any advice for anyone interested in pursuing opportunities at the WHMU?
Betty

I'd recommend talking with your branch advisor or career manager about applying. It's definitely an honorable position I wouldn't pass up.

NN
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job at the White House?
Betty

The most rewarding aspects of the job are traveling all over the world and being a part of history every day!

To learn more about military nursing, visit www.DiscoverNursing.com

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