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Liberty nursing student balances classes with service to her country, community

Whether it’s been as a firefighter and paramedic in Central Virginia or as a medic and Blackhawk pilot in the United States National Guard, Joy Byrnes (’23) has pursued opportunities to serve others locally and abroad, all guided by her God-given purpose and compassion. This week, Byrnes earned her pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Liberty University’s School of Nursing — one of 67 others to do so this semester— and will continue into a new stage of her career following her retirement from the military in July.

“When I do things for others, I just feel better and I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose that God has given me,” Byrnes said. “There have been times in my life when my focus is only on myself, we all have those times, and those are the least satisfying times in my life. If you live to serve God, you will see the difference.”

Byrnes followed in the footsteps of her mom, who worked in an emergency room, to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) before branching off onto the path of earning her Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification and joining the Lynchburg Fire Department, where she began working as a dual-trained firefighter and EMT in 2006. She also soon became a paramedic in 2009, and she works part-time as a paramedic in Amherst County and in the ER at Lynchburg General Hospital.

Byrnes is a Chief Warrant Officer 3 pilot in the National Guard.

In the midst of getting started in her civilian career, she also decided to join the United States National Guard as a medic in 2004, feeling the desire to “take care of those who were taking care of me” in the years following the September 11 attacks. She later attended flight school and became a pilot in 2010, and service overseas as a pilot included nine months in Afghanistan in 2018 and 2019 and four to five months partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Texas in 2020. She is coming up on 20 years in the National Guard before she retires as a Chief Warrant Officer 3.

“I didn’t want to be upset about what was going on (after 9/11) and not do anything about it,” she said.

Byrnes recalled the rescue of one man in Afghanistan who had been shot in the abdomen and was in bad condition, but the medics nearby were able to keep him alive for 24 hours before her aircraft arrived and brought him to the hospital.Witnessing how the medics and the surgical team were able to rescue the man and keep him alive, at least for the time-being, inspired Byrnes to look into nursing school.

She applied to multiple schools in Virginia, but due to varying timelines, she was led unexpectedly to Liberty, where her parents had met and graduated from in the 1980s, and she began her BSN in August of 2021.

Byrnes became a dual-trained firefighter and EMT in 2006.

“I was talking to one of the professors here recently, and we were talking about how sometimes you walk a path that you’re not paving, that God’s the one making the path and opening and closing doors,” she said. “God was closing a lot of doors when I was looking for schools, but He opened this one at Liberty, which was sort of a full-circle moment with my parents having gone here. Looking back, it was a blessing.”

Learning the practice of nursing through the biblical worldview found in all of Liberty’s degree programs, Byrnes said she was reminded of the compassion and empathy that Christ followers ought to bring with them into their careers, including the tense and trying field of emergency medicine.

“All of my medical background has been in emergency services, and that’s a very high-stress field with a lot of people who are overwhelmed by the situations,” she said. “It’s easy, over time, to become somewhat jaded and cold to a lot of it; in some ways, you have to be. But you can become too distant and not see people with compassion, you just see them as someone with a problem that you can fix and then move on. Showing compassion, showing empathy, that’s something that I’ve relearned here and I’ll take with me.”

Byrnes plans to work in the ER of one of the local hospitals as she completes her year of residency and look into other options following that, but she noted that she’s looking forward to a relative “slowdown” period after ending her time in the National Guard.

“I want to be home for a while, spend time with my family, enjoy some hobbies for a change, and find out what’s next,” she said.

Looking back on her various roles, many of which she’s balanced simultaneously, Byrnes said she encourages others to not hold themselves back and lean into God’s guidance in times of uncertainty.

“Something I tell people is that I think we limit ourselves; we close doors to opportunities because of fear of failure, we feel we’re not good enough, we keep making excuses for why we can’t do something,” Byrnes said. “If people have something they want to do, they can at least try. God will open some doors and close others, but He will put you on the path He’s set.”

This semester’s class of 68 BSN students participated in the fall Pinning Ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 12, in the Montview Alumni Ballroom. (Photo by Ryan Anderson)

The School of Nursing held this semester’s livestreamed Pinning Ceremony on Tuesday night in the Montview Alumni Ballroom, a tradition within nursing schools that dates back more than a century. The ceremony serves as a time when soon-to-be nurses are recognized for their hard work in their training and are given a pin unique to their school that will identify them as a graduate of their respective program in their future workplace.

During the ceremony, Interim Dean Dr. Tracey Turner shared a message of thankfulness to the graduates for their many contributions to the community with LUSON and a charge of encouragement as they enter the nursing field.

“I’ve had the honor of teaching a lot of the graduates tonight… they’re very special to me, I recognize how they’ve grown, and it’s been such a real joy to share that experience with (them). Not only myself, but each of our faculty members have prayed for you, even before you came into the program, and will continue to pray for you once you graduate. As you go out and may have a few challenges in life, just remember to reach back because we’re not going to forget you. You are always a part of the LUSON family.”

Turner briefly shared anecdotes about many of the graduates by name, including Byrnes, who Turner described as being “cool, kind, humble, and (having) time management to the thousandth degree.”

In the closing moments of the ceremony, all 68 of the graduates recited the Nightingale Pledge, an oath often made during pinning ceremonies through which they vow to practice nursing faithfully, honestly, and with a commitment to the welfare of others, wherever they may be.

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