Veteran Spotlight: Orette Baker’s Nursing Journey

Orrette Baker standing in his Army uniform.

Any reference to branches of the United States armed forces—either in copy or through the use of still or motion visuals—does not constitute an endorsement of the university by the United States Department of Defense or any unit thereof.

At 27 years old, Orrette Baker came to the United States from Jamaica with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and electronics and a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering.

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“The moment I became eligible to start my bachelor of science in nursing program, I went right into it. I am a lifelong learner and believe in the value of a great education."
Orette Baker, Nursing Student

One year later, he became a nurse for the United States Army.

“I admired the discipline cultivated by the Armed Forces and the skills I could develop through training and experience,” he says. “That was my biggest draw because it allowed me to sharpen my skills while adding new ones in service of humanity.”

His decision to start a career in nursing came from an opportunity presented during his Army recruitment interview. 

“I was given several options to choose from having gotten the highest possible grade on the entry test, but the option that appealed to me the most was nursing,” Orrette says. “Nursing stimulates my humanistic traits and provides a portal for me to care for people at a very intimate level.”

His most formative years.

Although unique, Baker emphasizes that his initial nursing education was nothing short of amazing.

“My service experience has taught me to be disciplined, organized, hardworking and pay attention to detail,” he explains. “These are the same traits needed to be successful in nursing school and as a professional nurse. Additionally, my military training and work have exposed me to some of the best health care minds, tools and environments in the world, thus giving me a very broad perspective on my role in shaping nursing today and in the future.”

Baker’s journey began when he made a trip to Oklahoma for training in the peak of winter. For 10 weeks, he was transformed into a soldier with physical and mental fortitude among the best in the world. He then spent a year at San Antonio Medical Center, where he gained experience in pediatrics, the emergency department, OBGYN, critical care, cardiology, neurology and oncology.

“Those were the most formative years of my life because I came face to face with real people fighting for their lives and I was able to make a difference for them,” he explains. “One of my most notable accomplishments was working in the vaccination clinic for pediatric clients. That day I was at the height of my creativity because I had to come up with ideas on the spot to reduce the fear in those kids. I ended up getting an Army achievement award for that clinic.

“Another interesting case was in the ICU where I followed a patient with multiple gunshot wounds to head and chest, brain hemorrhage, hemothorax and respiratory failure,” he adds. “The prognosis was very bad because the patient had severe intracranial hemorrhage and multiple organ failures. That didn’t deter us from doing our best to care for him. By the end of the fourth week, the patient was up in the chair, alert and talking. It gave me goosebumps knowing how teamwork and commitment to protecting lives can make a difference for humanity.”

When deployed, Baker was a practical nursing specialist assigned to a forward surgical team. The small unit of 10-20 people, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, medics and nurses, were tasked with rapidly deploying to the field to provide emergency medical help as close to the front line as possible.

“We had our own supplies, our own trucks, our own tents,” he says. “This gave us the ability to set up a hospital in only 72 hours.”

A lifetime of learning.

Baker served in the Army for six years. Shortly after, he earned an associate degree in nursing from Excelsior College. A current resident of Nassau County, he has spent the last three years working as a nurse on the med-surge floor at Mount Sinai Hospital.

It wasn’t long after completing his associate degree that Baker decided to go back to school to earn his bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“I’m endowed with a spirit of inquiry and a strong desire to maximize my potential in service of humanity,” Baker says. “The moment I became eligible to start my bachelor of science in nursing program, I went right into it. I am a lifelong learner and believe in the value of a great education."

Baker is currently enrolled in the RN to BS program here at the School of Nursing, which he is expected to complete in 2021. Since the program is fully online, he has been able to stay at home and continue working as a registered nurse.

Working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, he has found many parallels to his Army experience.

“My Army experience has helped me quite a bit in terms of coping and being able to function at a high level,” he explains. “In the military, we develop resilience and coping abilities as we are endure harsh conditions. Although it was exhausting to work long days wearing an N-95 mask and full PPE, I was prepared. I was also able to use my tools to help my colleagues cope through the tough times, because many of them were not used to this way of working.”

Drawing on Army parallels.

In addition to his Army experiences, Baker brings his broad range of education and interest in science and technology to the nursing profession.

“I’m fearless in terms of moving forward and maximizing my potential,” he says. “When opportunities come up, I jump at them. I greatly appreciate the perspectives I’ve gained from my many experiences, as they help me see problems differently. When my patient has a problem, I’m able to look at it not only from the point of a nurse, but from the view of science and technology. By combining these skills, I can find unique solutions to difficult problems.”

Upon earning his bachelor’s degree in nursing, Baker hopes to enroll in the Post-BS to DNP program in order to transition into advanced practice nursing.

"A DNP will give me more scope to impact the health care systems of the future and to advocate for safe, affordable, high quality and equitable health care,” he explains. “Nursing is such a humanistic profession. We have a sense of community and take care of each other. It kind of mirrors how the Army works. I plan to continue to draw from those experiences.”

Story by Grace Gerass

Published November 10, 2020