At age 29, after serving in the U.S. Navy since high school, Mark Gregg enrolled at UMass Dartmouth as a sophomore nursing student. He was selected by the U.S. Navy for the highly competitive Military Enlisted Commissioning Program, which allowed him to attend school full-time while remaining on active duty. He will graduate with a GPA close to 4.0. Upon graduation, he will be commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps stationed at Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. Gregg and his wife, Lauren, are the parents of two children.
"I am proud to be a part of the College of Nursing & Health Sciences Class of 2022. Since the pandemic began, we have had to adapt and overcome unprecedented obstacles right in the heart of our clinical experiences. The pandemic taught us resiliency and how to adapt to changes, which are critical nursing skills. To persevere through all of that and be able to come out on top at the end is a tremendous achievement for us all."
Can you share why you joined the Navy and what your experience has been like?
I joined the Navy right out of high school in January 2010. I grew up in a small town and just wanted an opportunity to get out and explore new things and new places. So, when my best friend had a Navy Recruiter stop at his house, I decided to talk to him as well. We both signed up after that and somehow, we ended up being placed in the same division in bootcamp and, coincidently, our assigned racks (beds) were directly next to each other. Also, my dad and Grandpa served in the Navy, my brother served in the Army, and my other Grandpa served in the Air Force. So, there’s a family tie to military service.
After I finished my training as a hospital corpsman, I was sent for specialty training in San Diego, CA to become a surgical technologist. I was selected for another follow-up specialty training in Camp Lejeune, NC to become a field service medical technician. I learned combat trauma medicine while I was there, and went through weapons training, hand-to-hand combat, wilderness survival, and a whole bunch of other fun things. I went from learning to be sterile in surgical tech school to a crash course in mud and dirt medicine.
Once I finished school in North Carolina, I reported to my first official duty station at Naval Health Clinic New England in Newport, Rhode Island. I worked there for two years as a surgical tech and that is where I met my wife, Lauren. I left Newport and reported to Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for my next duty station. I worked with the Joint Medical Group and at the Naval Hospital as a surgical technologist and was promoted to the Leading Petty Officer for the Directorate of Surgical Services. I loved the leadership and mentoring aspect of the job and I still got to work in the OR. I loved the fishing, boating, and beautiful ocean waters of Cuba.
After 18 months, I was stationed in Newport again. My primary roles were in leadership and management of Surgical Services and mentoring young sailors, which is what I loved and was good at. During my time there, I applied for the Military Enlisted Commissioning Program. It was the turning point in my career that led to where I am at now.
What is the Military Enlisted Commissioning Program?
The Military Enlisted Commissioning Program (MECP) is extremely competitive. The Navy only selects 35-45 individuals each year out of the thousands of applications submitted from both the Navy and the Marine Corps worldwide. The application process takes months to complete and mine was about 90 pages long when I submitted it.
One of incredible benefits of MECP is that you receive new orders to attend nursing school, which is your sole job and focus. I got paid my normal Active Duty paycheck to focus 100% on academics. There were only a few military requirements that I needed to complete.
Why did you choose to attend UMassD?
UMassD has an excellent nursing program and ranks high for NCLEX pass rates. It was close to Rhode Island, so my wife and two kids didn’t have to move anywhere. I also really liked the school architecture and how it looked when I toured here.
I have loved being a student here. There are great people, great resources, and great food! The nursing program has been excellent, and I have had many great professors that always encourage us and help us to be successful.
What did you do in your clinical rotations?
I went to several different places for my clinical rotations. My first clinical was at The Cottages at Dartmouth Village where we practiced interviewing the residents there as part of our Holistic Health Assessments. This was the “break-the-ice” clinical, as it was the first hands-on clinical experience for us to practice our new skills we were learning.
During my sophomore year, I was at St. Anne’s Hospital, which only lasted one week due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when everything was shifted to virtual learning. Luckily, we were able to return to clinical the next semester and I ended up going back to St. Anne’s. We practiced med-surg nursing and gained a lot of hands-on experience for the skills that we had learned in our simulation labs on-campus and virtually.
During junior year, we had our Community Health clinical rotation when we largely participated with COVID-19 immunizations all around the SouthCoast communities and assisted on campus performing COVID-19 testing. I was assigned one day that semester at the St. Anne’s Wound Care Clinic, which was perhaps one of the best and most impactful experiences I had throughout my entire clinical experiences. Also, during that same semester, I had my Psychiatric Nursing clinical at Bradley Hospital in East Providence, RI, where I was able to rotate through every department there and worked with children ranging from 5 to 17 years old.
I had my Labor & Delivery and Pediatric clinical rotations at Charlton Memorial Hospital during my senior year and had many great experiences there. Finally, this semester, I completed my mentorship clinical at St. Anne’s Hospital in the Emergency Department. It was by far the most I have learned and experienced throughout all of nursing school. Everything just seemed to come together while I was there; I had so many “a-ha” moments from remembering things we learned way back in sophomore year all the way to now and having it all make sense in the moment as I was experiencing it in front of me.
If you asked me prior to my mentorship if I thought I felt ready to become a nurse at the end of the semester, the answer would’ve been “no, not really.” Now, after my experience during my mentorship, my answer is “yes, I’ve got this!”
Do you have a favorite class or professor at UMassD?
Even though it was probably the hardest class, I really enjoyed pathophysiology. I l thought it was cool connecting the dots as to why things happen in the body and how it is all broken down into the cellular basics and then upward. I can’t say I have a favorite professor because I had so many great ones.
Do you feel well prepared for a nursing career based on the education you received here?
I absolutely do. Of course, I’m nervous and feel anxious about being a brand-new nurse, but I have learned so much and feel like I have been given the skills and confidence to be a great nurse.