RICHMOND, Va. – Sgt. Lauren Jenkins, a medic assigned to the Virginia Army National Guard’s Medical Command, became a licensed dental hygienist earlier this year, finishing her final training amid shutdowns and restrictions brought about by the pandemic. Jenkins earned her degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and is the first in her family to become a college graduate.
“I feel relieved and proud,” Jenkins said. “I will be able to have a career where I can serve others and also provide a nice life for myself.”
Jenkins said getting accepted into the program, completing the coursework, seeing patients in clinic and serving rotations in public health settings across the state of Virginia was a challenging experience, especially when restrictions from COVID-19 hit. Support from many channels, to include her unit’s chain of command, helped her successfully complete the program.
“Their support and flexibility allowed me to fulfill my monthly and annual military obligations without taking away from the focus I needed to complete this program,” Jenkins said. “Col. Koertage is a dentist in my unit, and he helped mentor me when I decided to transition into the dental field.”
Jenkins said the military’s educational benefits helped take a large financial burden off her shoulders. She’s been in the military for 12 years, serving first in the Pennsylvania National Guard before transferring to Virginia. She said her decision to join the military came from a desire to improve her life.
“I had a rough start in life because where I grew up, it was easy to fall into the wrong crowd,” Jenkins said. “I really wanted to get away and have a chance to be successful. I watched my older brother join the Army and admired his ability to improve his situation.”
For as long as she can remember, Jenkins loved caring for others, and she knew she wanted to turn that into a career.
“As a medic, your fellow Soldiers are also your patients,” said Jenkins. “I enjoy working at the medical readiness events because I get to see first-hand the ability we have to make people comfortable and maybe even change their perspective on the situation. People don’t always remember the specifics of a situation, but they remember how others make them feel. To me, it’s always about treating people with respect.”
Now that she’s done with school, Jenkins says she wants to focus more on her military career.
“I can finally go to Basic Leaders Course next spring,” Jenkins said, adding that attending the course is long overdue, but that was trade-off to being able to successfully complete her coursework. “Again, I appreciate all of my leaders in my command who have been flexible with me during these last couple of years.”
Jenkins also attributes her success to those who have supported her through the more challenging parts of her journey.
“My fiancé has been monumental in keeping me positive, and always reminding me that I’m worthy and capable,” Jenkins said. “My family and friends have seen me through some of the most stressful times of my life, and they’ve continued to love and support me.”
Jenkins hopes that her story will encourage others to continue fighting through whatever hard times they may be facing in order to achieve their goals.
“It’s easy for people to become frustrated when they hit walls,” Jenkins said. “Adverse situations aren’t permanent; you just have to remain persistent in working through them or change how you deal with them.”