Wildland Firefighter Becomes Wildcat Nurse

Aug 15, 2016

Prior to pursuing nursing, 25-year-old Eric Smith (BSN '16) spent four seasons working as a wildland firefighter, followed by a two-year, volunteer mission to Argentina. He says both experiences were life-changing and helped set him up for success in nursing school.

“After high school, I needed some time to grow up,” said Eric, a recipient of the Robert and Jeannette Barnes Undergraduate Nursing Scholarship. “I don’t think I would have gotten into nursing school at age 20 or 21. I really learned how to work hard while firefighting, and how to study while on the mission. Both skills helped me be successful as a student.” 

Although firefighting and nursing may seem like very different professions, Eric says they share many similarities.

“A person’s health and a fire are both very dynamic. They change rapidly, and there are a lot of factors that you may or may not be able to anticipate. In both cases, personal safety and the safety of others is paramount,” said Eric. “The teamwork is similar too. You have doctors and nurse practitioners giving directions for treatment, and you’re there to follow through with the plan. In firefighting, you have your captain or the engine leader giving directions, and you have to communicate with your team to complete the assignment. Being able to adapt to change is also important. When one tactic doesn’t work, you have to be prepared to switch to something else.”

Eric graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in May and is now a licensed registered nurse caring for patients in the medical-surgical intensive care unit at Northwest Medical Center.