Fewer than 0.5% of military officers in the United States Navy attain the rank of rear admiral. Meet 1993 Concordia graduate Rear Admiral Eric Peterson, deputy commander, Naval Medical Forces Atlantic, and the first male nurse promoted to this rank in the Nurse Corps.
Born in Italy, Peterson’s family moved around because his father was in the United States Coast Guard and eventually settled in West Fargo, N.D., where he was raised. After high school, Peterson joined the North Dakota Army National Guard, but a desire to consider the medical field that started when he was a child remained.
“I always knew I wanted to go into the medical field,” Peterson said. “My grandmother was a nurse and listening to her stories I was always intrigued. When looking at the different medical professions, I chose nursing as it aligned with my goals and what I wanted to do, and offered the most flexibility.”
On a Naval scholarship, Peterson spent his first year of college at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, but transferred to Concordia for his remaining years.
“The thing I loved about Concordia and what solidified it for me was the professors both nursing and non-nursing. They were hands-on, the classes were small, and they took a real interest in the students,” he said. “The nursing professors talked about being leaders in their profession and that’s what translates into what you do in a leadership position – making sure people know they have a place. The mentorship demonstrated by faculty was probably most important as it laid the groundwork for how I’ve always been an active listener and how I have led.”
After graduation, he was commissioned from the Nurse Candidate program into the United States Navy Nurse Corps and spent six years on active duty in San Diego at Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, working in the emergency department. He and his wife and kids then spent three years in Fargo before Peterson learned from his sister about a new hospital with a trauma center being built in Green Bay, Wis. He and his family then moved to Wisconsin in 2002 and he was hired as the trauma program coordinator.
In 2013, Peterson earned a Master of Science in Nursing with a nurse practitioner specialty from Concordia University Wisconsin as it offered distance learning, something that allowed him flexibility with his job, reserve duties, and two deployments while he was in the program.
Though Peterson does quite a bit of active duty every year, his position as deputy commander in the reserves is to make sure the reserve is integrated with active duty so they’re all on the same page, both strategically and operationally. He is also the deputy director of the Nurse Corps and director of the Reserve Nurse Corps. Peterson ensures close alignment with active duty Nurse Corps director RDML Cynthia Keuhner.
Peterson’s assignments over the years include a long list of duties in emergency or trauma positions and as officer-in-charge and executive officer. But he doesn’t take all the credit for his accomplishments. Peterson believes the success of anyone is a team process, that no one is successful alone, so it is only through the team and with the help of others that anyone is successful.
“For myself, this includes all my Navy friends and family, my civilian co-workers for putting up with the time away, and most of all, my family,” Peterson said. “They have had to endure me being away for a total of almost four years during various deployments and mobilizations. They have supported me and always encouraged me to be successful, even though it has been especially tough on them. They serve as much as I do and have earned this as much as I have.”
Peterson said he’s grateful to have the privilege of holding a position representing all of Navy nursing, ensuring the groundwork is laid out and the nurses are ready to deploy and care for warfighters to make sure, to the best of their ability, that they all make it home to their families. He also ensures that the senior nurses welcome and mentor new nurses and officers that come into the reserves so they are successful. He wants to make sure that they leave the Corps and Navy Medicine a better place and in a stronger position, always building for the future.
“The privilege of representing the Navy and Navy Nursing and Medicine is truly humbling,” he added. “Most of my job, as I see it, is to provide the strategic direction but also represent Navy Nursing and Medicine, providing direction to the Nurse Corps and knocking down barriers that prevent them from executing their care to our warfighters and their families, and then I get out of their way so they can do what they do best.”