Former Georgia National Guard member finds home as ER nurse

‘As crazy as the ER can be, I absolutely love it,’ says former Atlanta resident Dustin Willis

After spending 20 years in the Army as a member of the Georgia National Guard, Dustin Willis left for Cuba to meet his fiancée in New Bern, North Carolina, where she had just accepted a job.

Willis grew up in Atlanta, but his military career took him to Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. His mother, father and grandfather all served in the Army, so in 2000 he enlisted as a junior in high school.

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“It was just a normal thing,” Willis told Novant Health, where he currently works.

When his military service ended, Willis became a stay-at-home dad to son Wyatt. “For two months it was just amazing,” the 40-year-old told Novent Health. “All I did was push our son around in his stroller — and fish.”

Then a vacation to Hawaii changed everything. The family stayed with a nurse friend of Willis’ wife, Connie. Talking to her left Dustin Willis intrigued.

“The idea of becoming a nurse had been building up slowly,” he said. “I always enjoyed the medical training we got in the Army. So I said, ‘You know, I think I’m going to become a nurse.’”

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In 2020 he enrolled at Craven Community College, graduating this past May as one of only three men in his class.

“As crazy as the ER can be, I absolutely love it,” Willis said. He began his residency at Novant Health Emergency Department and is currently doing a rotation at Novant Health New Hanover Orthopedic Hospital.

The Army veteran’s patients range from infants to seniors, with injuries from mild to severe. Although the days are difficult, he told Novant Health, he said he feels at home again.

“That’s one of the best parts about nursing,” Willis said. “You can learn something new, especially in the emergency room, almost every day.”

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