As a combat medic, Derrick Mitchell sometimes had to run into battle to pick up fallen soldiers and administer emergency treatment. Now, pursuing his Master’s in Health Services Administration at NLU, he plans to continue assisting with medical care—without the combat—by working in healthcare or hospital administration.
Serving our country was almost a given for Mitchell, 32, who started at NLU in April, 2014. He has five family members who served, including his parents and grandfather. In this recent interview, he told us why service was a life adventure, and how it’s shaping his education and career.
What prompted you to enter the military?
Derrick Mitchell: My mother, father, uncle, aunt and grandfather were all military veterans, so I was always very interested in being a part of the service. I also knew that it would be a great way to travel, and to begin my medical career. I also knew it would be a great way to supplement my college education.
I joined the Army National Guard in 2000 while still attending high school. It was the first year the Army allowed 17-year-olds to join, allowing them to do basic one summer and advanced individual training the next summer before starting college.
What was your role in the military?
I was a combat medic. I was in Iraq from 2003-04, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I did first responder work, and that required me to face my fears. I was in a new country—you had to be cautious of your surroundings and the people. It was a great way for me to take on a task and put myself in a situation where I didn’t know what to expect.
We were with the infantry, in a field hospital. I was working in an ambulance. If someone collapsed or got wounded, I’d go out, pick them up, give them CPR. It was like in the movie “Forrest Gump.” We’d pick pick up people while the fighting was happening.
Tell us about the learning and growth experiences you had in the military.
It was a life changing experience and I am honored to be able to have that as part of my life history. I also made amazing friends in the service and was able to learn so much more about the world through my travels, meeting new people, and providing medical services across the globe.
As you thought about what you would like to do after the military, what was it that led you to the idea of higher education and NLU?
When I was working for a medical assistant training program, two of the administrators had gone to NLU and spoke highly of it. I like the adult education feel of the University, and I believe it best fits my lifestyle and career goals.
I always wanted to be a physical therapist. Then I got into sports medicine, but now I’m more interested in the health care administration side. I have an undergraduate degree from Grinnell College in Biology/Pre-Med.
Have you found that skills you learned in the military, such as leadership, discipline, technical or other skills, transfer well to the college setting? And will transfer well to the workplace?
Yes, as far as doing a task, focusing, having integrity for your work—all those things.
What challenges have you faced as you pursue your degree?
I think because I was in the National Guard, I don’t think I have as much of the difficulty as much as some people coming from active duty to college.
Has NLU’s veterans program been helpful to you, as a military-connected student, as you pursue your degree? If so, how?
It allowed me to meet with other veterans, use the veterans’ resource center as a guide for different opportunities. I’ve gone to job fairs and things like that.
Any words of advice on how others can benefit from NLU’s Veterans Program?
I am excited to be a part of the NLU-SVA (Student Veterans of America) chapter. They provide amazing services to fellow veterans and are always there to give guidance and support throughout my educational process. I encourage any student veteran who has not reached out to the NLU veterans’ staff to take advantage of the services they provide. It is not just about using the GI Bill but about gaining a partnership with individuals who share similar military pasts as yourself. I am forever grateful for NLU and the NLU-SVA chapter.
Where do you want to be professionally in five years?
I hope to become a hospital director or work in executive healthcare administration within the next 10 years. I truly believe that my experience at NLU will allow me to do so.