Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week’s Tillman Tuesday features military spouse and 2015 Tillman Scholar Katherine Hough, who within the past month started classes at the University of Washington where she is pursuing a Doctorate of Nursing Practice, Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner with a focus in primary care for women veterans. Katherine’s grandmothers, who were both registered nurses, inspired her nursing career and desire to give back.
WHEN YOU EMBARKED ON THE ROLE OF ‘MILITARY SPOUSE’ WHAT WERE YOUR EXPECTATIONS? HOW HAS THE JOURNEY CHANGED YOU?
“My family has a legacy of service – my dad was a social worker, my mom was a teacher, both my grandmothers were nurses, and my grandfather served in the Armed Forces; I wouldn’t have my role as a military spouse any other way. Ryan’s commitment to his Marines paralleled my commitment to my profession – I always knew I wanted to be a nurse. I was able to continue my professional dreams and he was able to continue his service. With each geographical move we made, I saw it as an opportunity to grow as a professional. I wasn’t really sure what being a military spouse was about. But through the years, I learned that being a military spouse is not about rank, it’s about relationships and engaging each other, supporting each other and building a healthy community to raise your children in. I am extremely proud to have had that honor and I know my sons are so proud of being ‘Marine kids’.”
HOW DID YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND MEET?
“We were both on spring break in the Bahamas – he was there with the Naval Academy Rugby team and I was there with friends from my college The Catholic University of America. I was sitting on the beach by myself because my best friend had gotten sunburned real bad and was hiding in the shade. Ryan came over and asked, ‘Can I read next to you?’ He didn’t read for long. We started talking, hit it off and realized we were both committed to something bigger than ourselves. In hindsight, on that very day we both knew our relationship was something special. We dated through his remaining time at the Naval Academy and my time in college. We were married at the Naval Academy chapel the Saturday after he graduated. Long story short: there can be great lifelong outcomes from spring break!”
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF THROUGH DEPLOYMENTS WHICH OFTEN BRING UNKNOWNS AND UNCERTAINTY?
“We had been based in North Carolina for about a year when Ryan deployed two weeks after Pat Tillman was killed. I remember that distinctly. It was also the week before our oldest son turned one. Everything was still chaotic and fairly new to us. The deployment snuck up on us with little notice. We had to adapt and push through. Celebrating our son’s first birthday without Ryan there was really tough and I was forced to face the realities of the current situation. A big thing being a military spouse is maintaining balance and embracing and seeking the happy moments – your life cannot be put on hold. Although there are phases of a deployment, you have to continue to pursue what gives you happiness. As a military spouse I think you wear many hats, but the important thing is to understand yourself and to know what you need and when you need it and maintain balance for yourself and your family. My advice is to allow any deployment to be a time of growth and an opportunity to work on communication with your spouse, setting expectations of what that looks like.”
YOU CITE YOUR GRANDMOTHERS AS THE PRIMARY INFLUENCE FOR YOUR DECISION TO PURSUE A CAREER IN NURSING. TELL US ABOUT THEM.
“My grandmother had breast cancer in her late 40’s. She passed away unfortunately at a time when breast cancer wasn’t really talked about and the research hadn’t been conducted on how to adequately care for women. My mom’s mom was a nurse as well and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her late 50’s. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer hadn’t made mainstream media either, and there wasn’t really a go-to treatment then. With limited options, my grandmother chose to enroll in a phase one research study at the National Institutes of Health at Bethesda, MD. When she passed away, the nurses that cared for her attended her funeral. I remember not recognizing these women. When I learned that they were the nurses that cared for my grandmother, I remember being in awe of how committed those nurses were to my family and how they went out of their way to support us in our time of grieving. I knew at that point a career in nursing was what I wanted to do.
For those nurses that attended my grandmother’s funeral, that was just an ordinary thing for them to do because that’s who they were and what they did. But for me, their ordinary moment had an extraordinary impact in my life.”
HOW DID THE EXPERIENCE OF LOSING YOUR GRANDMOTHERS COME FULL CIRCLE?
“When I was a senior at Catholic University of America, I had the opportunity to have my final clinical rotation at National Institutes of Health (NIH), on the exact same floor my grandmother received care. I knew that’s where I wanted to work. After graduation, I was accepted into a fellowship and landed my first job there.
During Ryan’s last deployment, we were living in North Carolina and life got really busy. I was getting run down taking care of our kids, a new puppy – all on top of working. We decided it would be best for me to stop working and focus on our family. We eventually moved back to Maryland and out of curiosity I checked to see if there was an open position in oncology at NIH. I knew that if I was going to work anywhere, I wanted it to be back at NIH. I ended up working as a clinical research nurse in an outpatient oncology day hospital. At my going away party, I shared the story of my grandmother and her incredible nurses attending her funeral. Two of my colleagues named the older nurses they suspected attended my grandmother’s funeral. It gave me goosebumps and I felt like everything came full circle and just felt right. Going back to NIH and re-centering my professional life pushed me to go back to school to earn a doctorate to become a Nurse Practitioner. I hope I can make a greater impact. I’ve worked in oncology the majority of my nursing career because of my grandmothers, so there remains a natural interest in taking care of oncology patients. Now, having experienced life as a military spouse, I recognize though that there is a national shortage of primary care providers. There’s also a lack of understanding the complexity of veterans’ care. I would like to focus on both areas – providing primary health care with a special interest and commitment to our women veterans.”
HOW DID YOU REACH THE DECISION TO FOCUS ON WOMEN VETERANS?
“During one of my husband’s deployments I was at the playground with my kids where I struck up a conversation with a grandma who was taking care of her granddaughter while her daughter was deployed with the Marines. The thought of that family’s three-generation commitment and sacrifice to our country was profound to me. Months later, while my boys were running across the tarmac to greet their dad, I looked over and saw the most powerful homecoming ever. To witness the reunion between those three women was overwhelming. I wondered: who will take care of her when her military career is eventually over? Who is going to take care of this female soldier’s unique needs and address whatever may arise so she can maintain optimal health? Right now, I am interested in primary care for women veterans’ needs, looking past just the obvious gynecologic health. I want to be a practitioner committed to providing the individual with holistic care.”
UPON EARNING YOUR DEGREE AS A DNP, WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS?
“The first step in making an impact in primary care is pursuing my doctorate of nursing practice. The DNP puts you on par with other doctors in your health field (medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, doctors of physical therapy, doctors of pharmacology) to provide sound evidence-based care. I like the DNP route because it will give me the tools to address healthcare policy, but also to be a confident practitioner. In five years, I hope that I am a confident primary care nurse practitioner working to improve clinical outcome for veterans. I am not sure exactly where I will be working. I plan to stay in engaged in the Tillman community so by the time I’m ready to seek a position there will be more opportunities to collaborate together.”
HOW HAS BEING SELECTED AS A TILLMAN SCHOLAR IMPACTED YOU?
“The day we moved out of our house in Maryland was the day I received the call notifying me that I had been selected. All I could say was, “I’m so happy!!!” I recognize the opportunity that being a Tillman Scholar presents and I feel that it gives me more confidence. It challenges me to stay my path. Besides the opportunity to learn and collaborate with other Tillman Scholars, being selected as a scholar removed the financial burden on my family. It affords me the gift of focusing on my family and school without the worry of the cost of pursuing my goals. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Leadership Summit, especially networking in a room full of scholars with different ideas and passions – I was in awe and kept thinking, ‘these are our heroes!’ Being a Tillman Scholar has opened up opportunities to be involved in organizations like Service to School where I now help mentor veterans who are transitioning to school. As a Tillman Scholar and military spouse, I’m committed to and motivated to care for those who have served our country.”
YOU RECENTLY MOVED TO BAINBRIDGE ISLAND. WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO MOVE YOUR LIFE FROM THE EAST COAST TO AN ISLAND IN WASHINGTON?
“My husband Ryan had the opportunity to take an early retirement from the Marines and we were at a point in our lives where our kids were getting older and needed a little more stability. Professionally, I was ready to take this next step and go back to school. We looked at many different areas to see what would fit our goals and what we wanted our post-military life to look like. We were able to find that on Bainbridge Island. It’s a unique place – we took a leap of faith and moved across the country!”