Tomas Serna may have left active duty in October 2016, but his life remains anything but calm. Nowadays, the former lieutenant colonel is teaching, coaching, and mentoring the next generation of nursing leaders—what he claims was the best choice he could have made.
Serna initially joined the Army in 1983 because his business degree gave him little job prospects. When he briefly left the Army eight years later, he attended college at the University of Texas at El Paso and attained his bachelor’s in nursing. “I chose nursing because it gave me better career opportunities,” he says. Now he works as an employee for the federal government. “I just changed uniforms and returned to work,” says Serna. “My military and my civilian life is pretty much interconnected. I would not change it. I would rather continue to serve than to work in a civilian hospital.”
It wasn’t easy to transition to civilian life, however. “I think the most difficult thing for me was losing control. As an Army officer, I had a lot of responsibility, but I also had a lot of respect. I could make things happen with a single order,” Serna explains.” Understandably, now it’s not so much the case, and Serna says a certain level of diplomacy must be mastered in order to get things done.
That doesn’t take away from his love of teaching. Serna teaches NUR338 Introduction to Nursing Informatics and NUR456 Leadership and Management in Nursing at Excelsior. “I enjoy dedicated students. I can work with students who are committed to succeed in the course. I can help them become successful in the class. I look for those students who work hard,” he says. It runs in the family, too. One of Serna’s greatest personal achievements is raising two wonderful nurses—his son and daughter. He “provided effective teaching, coaching, and mentoring. I could not give the profession more than my own two children.” One of Serna’s greatest military achievements is that in 2004, Serna took 450 soldiers to Iraq and brought them all back safely. Both accomplishments are a testament to Serna’s strong will and dedication to lead others to thrive and succeed.
Serna’s advice extends far beyond the paternal. He encourages veterans to take advantage of every possible program available to them; for instance, the VA has many programs, including job placement opportunities. “The transition center can also help them [veterans] before they get out of the service,” Serna explains They need to find a way to transfer their military experience, education, and training to the civilian job force. They need to dress to impress.”
In addition to helping fellow veterans, Serna is a member of a variety of local community organizations. He is also a member of the Texas Nursing Association and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. “We conduct bi-yearly health fairs, seminars and educational activities within the community. The goal is to promote the profession within the community,” he explains. As a former Army Nurse Corps officer, he is a member of the Army Nurse Corps Association. In this capacity, he helps mentor young officers. “Further,” continues Serna “as a certified medical surgical nurse, I help our clinical nurse specialists develop and present in-services to help our young nurses attain medical surgical certifications.”
When he’s not dedicating his time to helping others, where would you find such a busy guy? Probably the beach, says Serna. “I have a variety of classic cars. I like to work on them and drive them around. I also like to spend time on the beach. It is relaxing and very satisfying.” After the days he has, it sounds like a good time to us.