U.S. Army veteran Chad Godfrey says Laurel Ridge Community College’s nursing program was the right mission for his post-military life. It just took him a while to come to that realization.
After graduating from Westfield High School in Chantilly in 2005, Godfrey joined the army, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division. His service included a tour of Iraq.
After returning to civilian life, Godfrey decided to study engineering because “I love math, I love building and designing.” He enrolled at Northern Virginia University to begin his engineering degree. He was well on his way to getting the degree when he had an epiphany.
“It just hit me like a lightning bolt that I didn’t want to do it,” said Godfrey. “Engineering is mainly a desk job. Every once in a while, you get to go out and survey.”
In addition to his military service, he had worked for a fire department, welded and did relief work following Hurricane Katrina. The wife of one of Godfrey’s relatives – an engineer himself – suggested his new educational path.
“She said, ‘You’ve always been in public service, have you ever thought about nursing as a career?’” Godfrey recalled. “I changed my engineering degree to general studies so I could graduate and started working towards nursing school.”
That’s how he ended up at Laurel Ridge, taking some pre-requisite courses before beginning his nursing studies in fall 2019. Godfrey was able to use his veteran’s benefits to pay for college.
“I came in to Laurel Ridge’s Veterans Center a lot,” he said. “I used it mainly at the Fauquier Campus initially because I was getting my application done, getting my pre-requisites done. I got really good information on what classes I needed to take. They were always available to speak to if I had questions, which I had a ton.”
Godfrey had plenty of praise for the nursing program, too.
“It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “I think we all really liked the assessment class and labs. We did a lot of hands-on assessment of each other in class as we worked through different body systems. During the lab parts, we learned how to draw blood, tracheostomy care and I.V. insertion. I think that is where the nursing students get to know each other better. It’s a more relaxed environment.”
He was able to do many clinicals that second semester at Winchester Medical Center, as well as at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital and Warren Memorial Hospital, despite the pandemic.
“At Winchester Medical Center, we constantly got compliments on the Laurel Ridge nursing program,” Godfrey, who was his nursing class’s president, said. “The program really set us up for success.”
Laurel Ridge’s covid vaccination clinics were a highlight of Godfrey’s time at the college.
“The turnout was great,” he said. “It was kind of our first experience as nursing students to actually fill in as an actual nurse and interact with patients. It was neat to see the gratitude that the community had. For a lot of people, it was their first time out of the house. They were getting vaccinated so they could go visit their family. You feel like you’re giving back.”
The vaccination clinics were also a great way for nursing students to gain clinical hours, which had been impacted by the pandemic.
At the 2021 nurse pinning ceremony, Godfrey served as the Middletown Campus’s class speaker, and was a recipient of the Spirit of Nursing Award at graduation.
He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree of nursing from George Mason University in 2022. Not only was he working at Fauquier Hospital full time while he was earning his bachelor’s degree, he was also enrolled in the hospital’s year-long nurse residency program.
“The residency program takes a lot of the pressure off, I think, of this trial by fire,” said Godfrey, who continues to work at Fauquier Hospital. “Working in a hospital environment can be intimidating. You’re caring for your community. There’s a lot you’re responsible for.”
He explained that the residency program began with an onboarding process, during which he spent a lot of time with a nurse retention specialist and learning about different aspects of the job.
It was making sure that we had all of our hospital orientation done, as well as base learning before we were paired with a nurse or nurses for our actual residency program,” Godfrey said.
The program allowed him to meet nurses in every part of the hospital and to work toward weekly goals as he worked his way up to the recommended patient to nurse ratio.
“It really allowed us to focus on individual things before we were just handed this whole heap of things we were responsible for,” Godfrey said. “It allowed for confidence building. Now I have a tight-knit group of people who I can bounce ideas off. It really allowed for interdepartmental collaboration. It felt like an extension of nursing school, which was really great.”
Godfrey started working in the intensive care unit this year after having worked in the med-surg department.
“I absolutely love the ICU,” he said, adding he really enjoyed his previous department, too. “You learn so much on med surg. You have patients for multiple days – weeks, sometimes. You have everything from minor surgeries, to major surgeries, to the unknowns. Young patients. Old patients.”
Godfrey feel pretty settled in his work life now – especially since he was attending Laurel Ridge while his wife Sarah was pregnant with their second child – but said he might want to become a flight nurse one day.
“That’s always been on my radar,” he said. “I like where I am now, though. I’ve got two young kids, a short commute and a regular schedule.
“There’s nothing like a military camaraderie. Nursing’s kind of the same thing. We all bond through the hardship and the trauma and the long hours. I tell all my military buddies about the nursing program, saying they already have 50 percent of the skill set and nothing fazes us. It’s such a good career, and you can do anything in nursing. There are endless possibilities.”
Learn more about the nursing program at laurelridge.edu/nursing.
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.