As firefighter-paramedics, Matthew Sheehan and Jason Dolan are used to working on patients and getting them to the hospital for further treatment. Now, both men are learning to look after patients farther down that continuum of care – they’re studying to be nurses.
Sheehan, who earned his paramedic certification from Northern Virginia Community College, works with Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System. Dolan is with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue. Both are in their first year of the Registered Nursing program at Laurel Ridge Community College.
“This has been in the works for me since the early 90s, but life got in the way,” Sheehan said of enrolling in nursing school. “The fire service provided enough of an income and stability that I continued working in that field. A few years back, after a long stretch of bad calls and depression, I decided I was just going to do 20 years before retiring.”
High-stress calls and the resultant trauma are “par for the course” for paramedics, he noted.
As he was nearing retirement and his kids growing older, Sheehan, who lives in Hamilton in Loudoun County, knew it was the right time to enroll in Laurel Ridge’s Nursing program.
“I knew growing up that I wanted to settle down and stay in an area,” said Sheehan, who frequently moved as a child in a foreign service family.
Happily, he and his wife, Leslie, who works in law enforcement, have been able to do just that. Sheehan chose Laurel Ridge because it was an easy commute, the nursing program is highly-rated and through his job, he has met several of the college’s RN graduates.
“I’ve had a very positive experience here at Laurel Ridge,” he said. “Everyone has been wonderful – both the staff and our fellow classmates in our section.”
Dolan, who lives outside of Strasburg with his wife Andrea, a fellow firefighter, grew up in Washington State. Prior to becoming a firefighter-paramedic, he worked as a sound engineer in Los Angeles, for musical groups, movie productions and TV shows. After that, he moved to Arizona, where he worked as a firefighter-paramedic and did some private ambulance work, which included flying as a medic.
Sheehan hopes to work in one of the following nursing fields: neurology, trauma, the emergency room, or the intensive care unit. Most of all, he wants to work as a travel nurse. He and his wife have traveled the world, and now they’d like to spend some time seeing more of the U.S.
For his part, Dolan would like to become a nurse anesthetist or a nurse practitioner and practice in a remote area in need of more medical providers, perhaps in Alaska, central West Virginia, or the panhandle of Idaho. He would also like to continue to work as a rescuer, including as a flight medic.
“I would like to be able to keep those skills up and keep that foundation up,” Dolan explained.
He said their EMS experience overlaps with some of the nursing skills they’re learning.
“That continuum of care is what we’re learning,” Dolan said. “We’re going to see the patients for a different period of time.”
He said some of his colleagues have become RNs through Laurel Ridge, or are currently studying at the Fauquier Campus. Dolan said he worked as a lab tech at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix to pay for his paramedic training there.
“After having spent a lot of time on campus, it seems like community colleges have a tight-knit group of people who will end up in the working world as colleagues,” he noted. “It’s a network. And, from a cost perspective, I’m doing something that would cost somebody $25,000-$30,000 to do, and I’m paying $8,000.”
Sheehan agreed Laurel Ridge makes financial sense.
“For a $10,000-11,000 investment, I have an earning potential of upwards of $150,000-$200,000 [as a travel nurse],” he said. “I really think we’ve made a fantastic decision – not only are we preparing for a new profession, but it’s been a positive experience.”
Sheehan cited Professor Elizabeth Marshall as a favorite faculty member.
“I really like Professor Kate Regula’s class,” said Dolan. “She’s the consummate professional – her delivery, her approach to communication with students, just her knowledge is great.”
Learn more about Laurel Ridge’s 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.