A returning Vet joins COVID’s frontline while advancing his career

-Story by Michael Shaw, University of Wisconsin Green Bay writer

“Working smarter, not harder” is a maxim we all aspire to. Don Sandberg, who’s joining the UW-Green Bay’s December graduating class sporting a freshly-minted Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree, has done both—in abundance. And he freely admits, smarter is better.

As a male student in a nursing program, he was a bit of statistical outlier. As a married, forty-something army veteran with two tours in Iraq to his credit and nearly five years experience as a technician, then registered nurse, and who earned his bachelor’s of science degree while working full-time at a dialysis clinic he’s a true outlier. But it’s the story of his journey to this point that’s both remarkable and compelling. Including:

  • Beginning his medical career while deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom I and III, first as “a radio guy” and then obtaining EMT certification for battle
    field emergency medical preparedness. (His colonel wanted more medics in the field.)
  • Returning to civilian life in 2009—“I knew I wanted to stay in Wisconsin, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do.” His jobs at that time included cooking, fiber optics installation and steel foraging.
  • Hired as a technician at a dialysis clinic, then earning an associates of nursing (2-year) degree in 2014.
  • Being accepted into UW-Green Bay’s BSN program and continuing to work full-time at the clinic in 2020—as the COVID pandemic hit. Sandberg recalls days filled with fear and uncertainty at the clinic. It was during those times that his military training came to the forefront…

“Because of the pandemic we had to make a COVID shift. We were working from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.”

These were the early days before adequate mask supplies, testing or vaccines. “I volunteered to work with the COVID patients, there were so many unknowns about it. I didn’t have a problem working with them.”

In addition, there was attending college full-time while balancing his family life as a husband and father. The rest of the story is as remarkable as the results—he hopes to earn his master’s degree in nursing in the future.

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