Skip to main content

Inside a new Navy nurse's life abroad

Ens Allison O'Neill in Okinawa

Ensign Allison O’Neill, NC, USN, ’17 BSN was commissioned into the US Navy Nurse Corps and graduated from Villanova University in May. She studied for her registered nurse licensure exam, passed, and within two days, got on a plane bound for Japan. Next stop? U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.

“Coming to Okinawa directly after graduating from nursing school was a shock…I was both recovering from the haze of studying and jumping into a whole new life all at once,” explains Allison, noting that being surrounded by Americans while on duty and while living on base eased the transition for her. Time differences, culture, and nursing shifts were adjustments at first but soon things started to flow more easily. Now, Okinawa is feeling like home.

Just before Allison departed the US, she connected via email with LCDR Elyse Braxton, NC, USN, ’06 BSN who was assigned to Okinawa for the second time. “She has served as a support and mentor to me since arriving. We learned early on we share a mutual interest in the public and global health side of navy nursing. I’m grateful to know another Villanova grad on this side of the world— someone who has had way more time and experiences in the Navy Nurse Corps than myself-- sharing her wisdom and experiences and all the opportunities I might not otherwise know,” notes Allison.

Ens. O'Neill in delivery room

Allison started her career with an eight-week residency for new nurses, rotating to almost every unit of the hospital and from there, was assigned to the mother infant care center (labor and delivery) for another few months of orientation before being more independent in her role. She says she learns so much every day working with patients and staff. That makes sense, since she says that hers is the busiest unit of the hospital (she quotes an average of 250 triage visits/month and 100 deliveries/month), providing a wealth of experience.

Jumping right into her new profession and culture, Allison joined the Okinawa Nurses Association and led a t-shirt design project to help fundraise for Nurses Week in the spring. She says she also hopes to work with the hospital’s liaison committee, “connecting our staff and building relationships with local Okinawa hospitals.”

Ens. O'Neill explores Okinawa

“Sometimes, though, it’s easy to forget you’re living in another country,” shares Allison, “I made a concerted effort to start exploring this community, culture and area of the world -- right away.”

She climbed Mt. Fuji in August and toured around Kyoto and rural Japan over the Christmas holiday.

As for advice for new Navy nurses or others launching careers overseas? Allison offers the following:

      • Plan ahead. “No matter how much time you’ll be spending internationally, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily routine and lose sight of all those places on your bucket list. In the military, you need to request ‘leave’ weeks -- sometimes months in advance -- so decide where you want to go, book it and put in the request off! Then you’ll have that to look forward to.”

      • Learn the language. “If you didn’t study it before coming, there are numerous ways to learn once there. You can buy books, use apps like Duolingo, find an online tutor or, most simply, meet people! I joined a local language MeetUp that gathers once a week to practice conversation.”

      • Use social media. “Facebook and Instagram are great tools for finding local events, travel tips and connecting with people in your area.”

      • Stay active. “Finding an activity you enjoy, that challenges you physically, is always good for your mind and body -- but especially when you’re trying to acclimate to a new place. Try activities that take advantage of the culture and climate you’re in. I’ve tried martial arts from Okinawan instructors, hiked some of the island ruins and practiced beach yoga on the East China Sea. Take a dance class, rock climb, join a local sports team!”

In the meantime, Allison continues to help mothers and babies stay safe and healthy and seeks opportunities to watch Villanova basketball games on TV if the time difference doesn’t get in the way.