2018 Tillman Scholar

Melissa Swensen

Military Spouse
George Mason University
DNP, Psychiatric Mental Health

“I believe the most important work done in this life is the work done one-on-one.”

As a nurse, mother and military spouse, Melissa desired to follow her mother’s example and devote her life to others. Her experiences as a medical volunteer in the Dominican Republic and Germany taught her to see the needs of individuals and families. Her efforts in literacy and education taught her the value of gaining knowledge. Volunteering within her military community gave her insight into the strengths and needs of military members. After years of working and teaching among different communities, however, Melissa’s most impactful nursing experience began as a patient.

Halfway through her fifth pregnancy, Melissa was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia and was medically evacuated from Germany on a C-17 transport carrying severely wounded service members. Spending several weeks at Walter Reed with those wounded warriors, Melissa was there when they awoke to a new reality. She walked alongside them—and because she was a patient and a nurse, they opened up and talked to her about their deepest wounds. From her years as a critical care nurse, Melissa understood that physical wounds heal. What she learned on that unit was that mental and emotional wounds require a different kind of care.

It is Melissa’s goal to focus her education and research on evidence-based treatments in healing mental and emotional trauma. A recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award for her work among military members at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Melissa hopes to continue her work within the military community.