JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – They're a unique cohort of students at Jacksonville University, entering eager to learn all they can in their chosen subject and leaving not only with their bachelor's degree but as officers in the U.S. military, proud alumni of one of the largest university units of its kind in the country.
No, they're not part of JU's vaunted Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program, which has produced more than 1,500 commissioned officers and numerous commanders since becoming the first such unit in Florida more than four decades ago.
They're in the Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program (MECP), which offers qualified active-duty enlisted sailors and marines a chance to earn an entry-level nursing degree followed by an appointment as an ensign in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps. Participants receive full pay and benefits of their pay grades while pursuing their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and can use their Montgomery G.I. Bill and other financial assistance to pay for schooling.
"These students are selected from hundreds of applicants from all over the world, and complete their degree with us as well as fulfill their Navy requirements in 36 months or less," said Stephanie Bloom, director of Admissions & Enrollment for JU's College of Health Sciences. "JU has an excellent reputation among the MECP community, and these students are a wonderful asset to the Nursing program and the University. They also illustrate the great reputation we have as a military-friendly institution."
Last year, about 45 active-duty personnel were accepted into the highly selective MECP program nationwide, and a dozen chose JU to further their education. Of the approximately 125 students overall in the program nationwide currently, JU has 31, a high number for a single institution.
Bloom said the program at JU is popular because of the campus' great reputation for being very military-friendly, great support resources for active-duty students, proximity to Navy bases, high program quality, high licensure (NCLEX) pass rates, and JU's critical care focus being very desirable for students, particularly those who want to get into a trauma or critical care environment after graduation.
Dating back to the program's beginnings at JU in 2005, numerous MECP students have gone on to stations all over the world serving as Navy nurses, including at large Navy base hospitals such as Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Naval Hospital at NAS Jacksonville.
This year, five students graduated from the program April 25 with their BSNs and were commissioned, along with one graduate from the Seaman to Admiral-21 (STA-21) Commissioning Program. Commissioned through the MECP program were Ensign Damaris Parrilla-Fernandez, Ensign Shannon Myers (pictured above with her daughter and father), Ensign Wesley Limberg, Ensign Julius Jones and Ensign Robert Todd Brown. Additionally, Lisa Bruscato was commissioned an Ensign as part of the Navy's STA-21 program.
"I have developed a great appreciation for JU partly due to its commitment to the military," said Jones (pictured with his wife, mother and two sons), JU's exiting MECP senior leader, who heads with his family to San Diego this summer to begin his career as an officer. "The MECP program … is growing quickly in the JU School of Nursing, and is giving the University a great reputation within the military community."
Selectees for the program must participate in a nationally accredited academic program leading to a bachelor's degree in nursing. If eligible, they may use the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) or Montgomery Government Issue Bill (MGIB) educational benefits. Graduates incur an eight-year military service obligation, of which a minimum of four years must be served on active duty.
Eligibility requirements include a recommendation by an applicant's commanding officer, service on active duty in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps or U.S. Navy Reserve, and ability to complete the nursing degree requirements and be commissioned before age 42.