Texas Medical Center

Retired Colonel Earns a Nursing Degree

ON THE FAST TRACK—Col. Byron Nash, retired from the U.S. Air Force, is shown here on graduation day at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Nash earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing in only three semesters through an accelerated program at UTMB.


By Maureen Bayless Balleza  |  The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

At a time in life when many of his friends are contemplating how to spend their retirement, Col. Byron Nash, retired from the U.S. Air Force, is ready to start his newest career – as a nurse.

Nash, born on Galveston Island, returned to complete an accelerated program for his bachelor of science degree in nursing at The University of Texas Medical Branch.

The program enables people with an undergraduate degree and the proper prerequisites to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing in three intense semesters.

The married father of three daughters 24, 22 and 19, found his first career in Galveston. As a high-school senior, he attended an air show with a friend at Scholes Field that defined his dream.

“We were on the flight line, almost close enough to sort of reach out and touch the planes,” remembers Nash. “At the end of the show I told my buddy – ‘that’s what I’m going to do.’ He said ‘yeah, right.’”

After a four-year ROTC program at Baylor University, Nash received his commission and his first assignment, as a missile control launch officer in Minot, N.D., where he met his wife, also an Air Force officer.

He soon was selected for navigator training and spent time flying F4s, F111s and F18s in Spain, Germany and England, home base for missions during Desert Storm.

“That alters your perception of stress,” he said.

Along the way, he completed a master’s degree in public administration and after a 26-year career he retired to San Antonio where he was stationed earlier.

He began work with a defense contractor but was restless. He went back to school and got another master’s degree; this time in industrial distribution. But something was still missing. He did some research and soul-searching and realized that “what I really like doing is taking care of people.”

“Next thing I knew, I’m applying to nursing school and my wife is looking at me like I’m crazy,” Nash said. “Then I get the acceptance letter and my wife asked ‘Now what will you do?’ We talked about it and her request was ‘please don’t make me go hungry.’ I told her I’ll figure that out.”

He loved the look on his boss’s face when he told him.

“He said ‘You’re going to do what? Aren’t you a little old for nursing?’” recalls Nash. “How old is too old?”

He said UTMB’s one-year program definitely is not for the faint of heart.

“When they say accelerated, they’re not kidding. Twenty hours a semester is pretty intense. You’re always reading, always studying.”

In addition to juggling two to three courses at a time, there are also clinical hours that must be fulfilled.

“Students need drive, dedication and discipline,” he said. “You have to be a self-starter, you have to be driven. There are times when it’s pretty overwhelming.”

He remembers looking at a 1,300-page textbook and thinking, “I have to read that in how many weeks? And remember it?”

Yet the intensity is necessary, he said. There are no shortcuts in the training because, at the end of the day, people’s lives are at stake.

“The way I look at it is let’s go for it. Let’s learn. At the same time, let’s take what we’ve learned and help others.”