Three years ago, Carmen Pham would never have guessed that she would be called upon to serve her country.
The Loyalist College Practical Nursing student joined the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve after high school, a time when she wasn’t sure which career path to choose. “I had worked at Subway all through high school, and I was looking to move on from that, but I knew I wasn’t ready to go to school again,” said Carmen.
One thing she did know – she wasn’t going to follow the standard path. “I just wanted more. To find my purpose.”
Carmen was at a career fair when she first learned about the opportunities offered by the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve. Her interest was instantly piqued. “I saw the military as a way to be a part of something bigger than myself,” she said.
She joined the Reserve’s Naval Securities Team (NST), providing overseas force protection for Canadian ships. “In the NST, I relieved regular force members when they took leave,” she said.
Taking on the role of Supply Technician, Carmen’s job is tracking down and organizing any material the Navy requires. “If we need transportation, I find us rental vehicles. If our ship needs food, or uniforms, I make sure we have those supplies.”
The flexibility and variety involved as a Supply Technician makes the role invigorating. “The beauty of my job is that it crosses into so many different fields,” she said. “Sometimes I’m working with IT equipment, ordering a pallet of computers, and making sure we have what we need for our computer systems to be operational. Other days, I’m dealing with our uniforms.”
In those first years with the Navy, Carmen found herself deployed to distant locales, from Italy to Dubai, but even though the military brought her opportunities around the world, in time, Carmen knew she was ready to continue her education.
“Part of what attracted me to the military was how much I loved helping people, but I decided I needed a contrast to the kind of work experiences I was having in the Navy,” she said.
Leading Seaman Carmen Pham continues to work for the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve part-time as a Supply Technician with the HMCS Cataraqui in Kingston, while studying Practical Nursing full-time at Loyalist. “Nursing is an ideal career for me,” she said. “It allows me to pursue my passion for science while continuing to serve others.”
For Carmen, it’s the hands-on experience that makes the program at Loyalist special. “The best part of my training is the clinical experience. It’s amazing to learn from nurses in the field, and I love to interact with patients.”
Balancing her responsibilities in the military with her schoolwork takes effort, but Carmen said that the military has been accommodating of her studies. Recent developments with the global COVID-19 pandemic have shifted that balance. In the coming weeks, Carmen may be called upon to join those at the front lines of the crisis.
“Right now, we’re all on standby,” said Carmen. “I’ve been notified that I could be deployed at any time as part of the military’s domestic response. My faculty at Loyalist are very supportive and are ready to make any accommodations necessary to help me succeed. When I joined the Navy three years ago I never imagined this situation. I’m ready to help out in the community as needed.”
Carmen is looking forward to a future where she can combine her Practical Nursing skills with her military service. “I know what I want now. I want to finish my training. I want to become a Registered Nurse, and then I want to work on a ship, as a Nursing Officer in the military.”