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UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System

Navy Captain Bobbi Livingston Henk balances nursing education with military duty

Photo of Bobbi Livingston Henk
Bobbi Livingston Henk trains nurse orientees on Electronic Medical Record. Henk, a captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve, is one of three nurse educators who teach UC Davis nursing orientation and continuing education classes.

Observant neighbors of Bobbi Livingston Henk can tell to which of her three jobs she's headed in the morning. If she's wearing medical scrubs, she's preparing to teach one of her sessions for California State University, Sacramento (CSUS), nursing students. If she's wearing khakis, she's on her way to the Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Wash., where as a captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve she is the senior nurse executive. And if she's wearing a business suit or other “street clothes,” she is on her way to the UC Davis Medical Center to perform her duties as nurse educator in the Center for Nursing Education (CNE).

Henk, a registered nurse who has a master of sciences in nursing degree from University of Phoenix, is one of three nurse educators who divide the responsibilities of teaching nearly 70 nursing orientation and continuing education classes each year. Henk teaches classes on “Violence in the Workplace” and “Combating Medication Errors” along with most orientation classes, and coordinates teaching assignments for numerous other classes.

Going mobile

Henk's 30-year nursing career, during which she has been a charge nurse and a head nurse, encompasses numerous disciplines. After working for three years as a psychiatric nurse at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York State, she enrolled in the U.S. Navy and served nine years on active duty. She began with a nursing assignment in a surgical unit at Naval Hospital Long Beach, then was transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Guam in the South Pacific, where she served neonatal intensive care nursing duty for three years. While at Guam, her first child was born. Henk rose to the rank of lieutenant by the time she was transferred to the same-day surgery unit at Naval Hospital Oakland, where she gave birth to her second child.

Henk joined the UC Davis Health System as an HIV clinical resource nurse in 1989, after shifting to Naval reserve status that required her to serve only 24 days of reserve military duty plus 12 days of active duty annually. But when the Persian Gulf War began less than a year after Henk joined the health system, she was reassigned to active duty in Bremerton, Wash.

“When I was mobilized back to active duty, I was taken from my home and family for almost a year during Operation Desert Storm,” Henk said. “A month after I went to Bremerton, I found out that I was pregnant.” Her third child, like her older children, was born in a military hospital.

A captain and her recruits

After nearly a year on active duty, Henk returned to UC Davis Medical Center and shifted in 1999 to the Alzheimer's Disease Center. She remained with that unit until she joined CNE in July 2005. She derives satisfaction from working with young recruits.

“Nurse educators are the first people to greet newly hired nurses when they first report for work,” Henk explained. “We can make a big difference in how they start their careers, and I'm proud to be a part of that. We give them a lot of information, but in a supportive and caring way.”

She additionally is a part-time instructor for first-year CSUS nursing students, who perform nursing care for UC Davis Medical Center patients under Henk's supervision.

On her current billet (military assignment), she puts in five-day stints at Naval Hospital Bremerton once or twice each quarter, for which she takes military leave from UC Davis. Her duties as senior nurse executive largely involve staffing, including scheduling of “backfill” personnel to cover for other nurses as they rotate out of service for other duties.

A rewarding career

During her years in active and reserve duty, she has received two Navy Commendation Medals for her work as commanding officer of two separate units; the unit she supervised during Operation Desert Storm received a Unit Commendation Medal; and the unit at Naval Air Station Point Mugu of which she was officer in charge was honored with the prestigious Navy Unit Commendation Award, which is presented to only one naval unit each year for exemplary performance.

She also has received two UC Davis Medical Center Staff Awards (in 1993 and 2000), a Significant Contributions and Outstanding Performance Award (1994), a Certificate of Appreciation for Patient Education, the Neurology Staff Excellence Award (2004) and two Unit Excellence Awards (2003 and 2005).

Sense of honor

Despite her 27-year military career, she believes her greatest brush with courage occurred while working with UC Davis Medical Center patients who demonstrated how precious and precarious life is.

“I found working with HIV patients an honor and a privilege,” Henk said. “AIDS patients were so shunned by society in the late 1980s, and they showed such incredible strength in meeting adversity. The same is true of Alzheimer's patients and their families, who face unbelievable adversity. If you're a child of an Alzheimer's patient, you worry if this will be your future.”

Henk tries to impart that sense of honor to the students and duty nurses with whom she interacts. “Student nurses tend to be terrified of dying people. When you're in your 20s, death is ordinarily far from your mind,” she observed. “I believe that people are products of their experiences. I have benefited from my diverse experiences, and I hope that the nurses in my classes do as well.”