BOZEMAN — After six years in the Navy, Rachel Nyquist decided to attend Montana State University to further her education in the field of medicine, combining her past experience with new knowledge to serve the veteran community in rural Montana.

“Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to be in health care, but I didn’t know in what capacity,” Nyquist said. “I see a big need for medical and mental support in the rural and veteran community – it’s something I would like to do.”

Nyquist, who is originally from Montana, served in the Navy as a corpsman — a military medical professional who worked alongside Marines as well as in hospitals and clinics. She served a tour in Japan and engaged in humanitarian relief work alongside military personnel from other countries. But, she said, it was working with an oral surgeon in a military hospital that opened her eyes to the possible next steps of her medical career.

“(The surgeon) encouraged me to go get my official medical credentials if I wanted to pursue the next steps of leading small medical field stations or commands,” Nyquist said.

With encouragement from that surgeon mentor, she started by pursuing a bachelor’s degree, transitioning out of the active military to go to school. Initially, she went to college in Seattle, but it wasn’t until she transferred to MSU to pursue a degree in nutrition science that her health care career goals became clearer.

The shift from the structure of military life to the schedule of a full-time student was difficult, Nyquist said. She felt isolated and didn’t feel like she was succeeding in Washington. Shortly after, she jumped on her brother’s invitation to move back to Montana to attend MSU.

The veteran support services she found at Montana State were far beyond what she encountered before, Nyquist said. At MSU’s Travis W. Atkins Veterans Support Center she was able to connect and build a community, receive help in accessing her VA benefits, apply for scholarships and find the right housing – which was a game changer as a single mother in school, she said.

“Montana State and the faculty have been wonderful,” she said “But the vet center is at the heart of it. It was a monumental piece of how I got through my undergrad.”

In MSU’s nutrition science program, she dove into the cellular and nutritional impacts of diet on the body – something she found fascinating since fitness was a big part of her military life.

“I honestly fell in love with it,” she said. “I just started to realize how each part of health, things like micro- and macronutrients, works on a cellular level, goes hand in hand with each other. It is so interesting and how it ties with medicine — It is a huge part of our health.”

Immediately following her bachelor’s degree, Nyquist started a master's in health science with a concentration in molecular medicine in MSU’s College of Agriculture. After she graduates this spring, she plans to pursue a physician assistant degree, where she can hopefully grow her professional skills and her desire to help other veterans in Montana.

“Somehow being able to bridge that gap for those lacking health care and nutrition in Montana, while finding a way to work within, specifically, the growing female veteran community, is important to me,” she said.

Joe Schumacher, director of the Atkins center, said that Nyquist goes above and beyond and continues to serve her fellow veterans by welcoming new people, tutoring students and even answering the phones.

“When I think about service, I think about giving back, and Rachel comes to mind,” Schumacher said. “She's given a lot to our nation, and she chose to continue that tradition when she came back as a civilian.

“Rachel just exemplifies those values that encourage community involvement in a very visible way,” he added. “She’s set an example that will have lasting impacts on the MSU veteran community.”

As a part of the MSU community, Nyquist discovered how her background in the military and her ties and love for rural Montana could take root in her future career path.

“My end goal is to be a medical provider,” said Nyquist. “But if there is a way to give back – provide support – for people getting out of the miliary who might have felt lost like I did, that would be my end goal, and I hope to find a way to weave both together.”

- By Emme Demmendaal, MSU News Service -

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