RICHMOND, Va. –
When 1st Lt. Nicole Albertson found herself at annual training during her first LGBTQ+ Pride Month since coming out, she wanted a way to mark the occasion. She was at A.P Hill with the Virginia National Guard’s 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Since she couldn’t walk in Washington, D.C.’s Pride Parade, she grabbed long-time friend, Staff Sgt. Cassandra Lyons, and a Pride flag and posed for a picture.
“That was our little thing,” Albertson said. “We really wanted it to send to our whole friend group and be like, ‘we’re with you guys, we’re just two hours south.’”
With this year being her first year out, Albertson said it was especially important.
“Every day when I get to be who I am without hiding is a day where I can be my best,” she said. “Pride is one of the dedicated times where I get to celebrate and work toward furthering the inclusion of people in our community and the right that we have as Americans.”
Albertson started her military career in 2013 when she enlisted into the Virginia Army National Guard as a 68W Combat Medic Specialist. She started work toward a nursing degree after that, and then volunteered to deploy to Qatar in 2015 with 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
While deployed, she did some research on the Interservice Physician Assistant Program, a 29-month program available to Army and Air Force personnel who meet certain prerequisites and want to further their careers at physicians’ assistants.
“Because of being a year in nursing school, I had most of the prerequisites,” Albertson explained. She just needed a different chemistry class, which she was able to tackle while deployed. “I had a lab kit that I would take out to the [forward operating base] and would do science experiments at the FOB.”
When she got back home, she applied and was accepted to the IPAP. For the next two and a half years, she trained, first in San Antonio for 16 months where she earned 104 credits, and then at Fort Belvoir building out her clinical experience. The program was intensive and demanding, and Albertson completed it in January 2020.
“They take you from an associates degree to a masters degree in two and a half years,” she said. A week after she graduated the program, she took her boards, received the results and then received her direct commission to first lieutenant.
“Being in military medicine in comparison to civilian medicine, I think I was able to do a lot more,” Albertson said. “I feel like we were just given a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t necessary have if I wasn’t in a military program because they’re so focused on training you to the best of their ability because they know, most likely, that you will be alone somewhere, like in a foreign country, with limited resources.”
Now, she works as a PA in an emergency room full-time and her partner is a public affairs officer for the U.S. Air Force based out of Fort Meade, Maryland.
“Pride is about more than just the LGBTQ+ community because when we find ways to live authentically, we can empower others to do the same no matter what communities they belong to,” Albertson said.