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Lessons Learned - An Army Nurse’s perspective


By Mark Oswell

WRNMMC PA Specialist​

In 1989, Joy Napper graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and joined the U.S. Army.

After 28 years of service, now Army Col. Joy Napper will formally retire on May 1, 2018.​

During her nearly three decades of service, she has had eight duty assignments spanning from San Antonio, Texas to Fort Campbell, Kentucky – and two deployments overseas to South Korea and Iraq.

More recently, Napper brought her experience to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where she now serves as deputy director for quality. Prior to this assignment, she served as the hospital’s department chief of Hospital Education and Training, as well as the deputy director for nursing at WRNMMC.


While serving in the latter role, Napper helped forge WRNMMC’s relationship with Auburn University student nursing program, Project SERVE, which she describes as one of her most rewarding experience as an Army nurse. The program is designed to provide nursing students an educational experience to give them the skills to manage the unique needs of military members, veterans and their families.


“They were able to witness our care and compassion for our wounded warrior population, and the talks with the Soldiers, Sailors and family members were priceless,” explained Napper, who hails from Rochester, Pennsylvania. “I will always cherish this lasting partnership, and I am grateful to have been a part of the first meeting to its implementation,” she said about the Project SERVE initiative.


Napper explained the greatest challenge she faced during her years in uniform was leading and motivating personnel during an 11-month deployment to Iraq. The deployment included 12-hour daily shifts and multiple days of 99-degree nights.


“We were the ‘Burn Center’ for the entire region, Napper added. “We had numerous patients with penetrating and blunt trauma, but the majority of our patients suffered from second- and third-degree burns related to IED blasts and other explosives.”


“You have to look for opportunities to encourage personnel when people are just tired,” Napper said.


After retiring, Napper plans to continue her educational goals by earning a Doctorate in Nursing Practice from the University of Maryland, and then work in the Baltimore area before eventually moving to North Carolina.


Reminiscing on her Army career, Napper said, “I will miss the collegial environment between all disciplines. Walter Reed Bethesda has been my family away from home for the entire six years of this assignment. I have so many friends from ‘Walter Reed Classic,’ as well as new treasured friends at Bethesda,” she stated​.