CHAPTER 2: Military/Nursing Career Takes Health First Leader From Great Plains of North Dakota to the Space Coast

By  //  May 11, 2023

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National Nurses Week May 6 to 12

As Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center’s new Vice President for Nursing, Dixie Aune enters just her third month on the job leading hundreds of nurses for the region’s largest hospital, she is also reflecting on a 35-year career that’s taken her from her childhood home in North Dakota to the Space Coast. Aune considers her new role at Holmes Regional to be part of a second chapter to her story – with new opportunities and challenges ahead. It’s been an amazing road from the Great Plains of North Dakota to the land of sunshine, sand and rocket launches.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – By her own admission, Dixie Aune is drinking fast and furiously from a firehose these days – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

As Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center’s new Vice President for Nursing enters just her third month on the job leading hundreds of nurses for the region’s largest hospital, she is also reflecting on a 35-year career that’s taken her from her childhood home in North Dakota to the Space Coast.

“It’s really amazing to reflect on my past, but also about where I am in the moment, and about the nurses I am fortunate to lead and work with,” said Aune.

Aune considers her new role at Holmes Regional to be part of a second chapter to her story – with new opportunities and challenges ahead. It’s been an amazing road from the Great Plains of North Dakota to the land of sunshine, sand and rocket launches.

Aune was raised by parents who were both farmers. She grew up in North Dakota and was the first in her family to attend college on a track and field scholarship, but while still in high school, a visit from a military recruiter inspired her to begin her military career.

“An Army recruiter came and spoke to us during a recruiting event and spoke about some of the opportunities available in the military. And for whatever reason, it seemed exciting to me. I remember talking to my parents about wanting to leave North Dakota and see the world.

“My mom made me promise to not give up my track scholarship at North Dakota State University. She was very insistent that I was going to go to college. So, we compromised, and I joined the Army National Guard right out of high school and spent three years in the reserves and kind of got more and more excited about what the military could offer me.

Fast forward a few years and a visit from another military recruiter (Navy) who touted the appeal of a career in the Navy.

After 35 years in the military, during which time Dixie Aune would also earn a Master of Science Degree as a Nurse Practitioner from the University of North Carolina and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice Degree in Executive Leadership from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, she retired – just after the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That’s when I explored a lateral transfer from the Army to the Navy and received my commission when I graduated from nursing school. I left North Dakota for sunny San Diego never really thinking that the military was going to be a career for me,” said Aune.

“I always thought I’d move back to North Dakota at some point. I joined the military with aspirations of being an ER/Trauma nurse, but instead, by way of the needs of the Navy, I became a labor and delivery nurse and, subsequently, a women’s health nurse practitioner. I continued to have many other fortunate opportunities to grow and develop personally and professionally along my journey in the military.”

After 35 years in the military, during which time Aune would also earn a Master of Science Degree as a Nurse Practitioner from the University of North Carolina and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice Degree in Executive Leadership from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, she retired – just after the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I thought that was it. Time to retire and do everything that I thought retirement life would be. Spend more time with my husband and kids, extracurricular activities including half marathons and cycling. I really thought that I was ready for retirement.”

Wrong.

A new opportunity presented itself in the form of a one-year stint as Chief Nursing Officer for Detroit Medical Center’s Sinai-Grace Hospital.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to lead an incredible team of nurses at one of Michigan’s largest hospitals. I quickly realized that while I was again doing what I loved, Michigan and Detroit wasn’t the place I could see myself long term.”

‘Wellness Starts with We’

And so, Health First and the Space Coast beckoned!

“I got a call from a recruiter that Health First was looking for a Vice President of Nursing. I had always felt after my first Navy duty station at Officer Indoctrination School in Pensacola that I’d like to get back to Florida. And so, when I read about Health First, what really what resonated was their ‘Wellness Starts with We’ motto. I immediately felt an alignment with the Health First culture and community,” said Aune.

“Although my in-laws live in Florida, I had never been to Melbourne. I didn’t know much about the Space Coast previously, but I very quickly fell in love. I’m a Navy girl, so I love the beach, the sun, and the weather. Everyone has been incredibly helpful and welcoming. I’ve found my spot!”

Aune says that many of her experiences and training in the military helped her to adapt quickly in an ever-changing healthcare environment. In fact, there are many individuals who have found careers in healthcare after serving in the armed forces.

“The military teaches you about relationships. You must learn to rely on one another – no matter the mission or objective.”

Although Aune is back for her second go-around in healthcare, she understands all too well the challenges that currently face the healthcare industry post-COVID with many seasoned caregivers retiring, or simply leaving the profession altogether. And more coming out of school who might aspire to joining the ranks of medical professionals but who are reconsidering career choices. She has some simple advice.

“For me it’s easy. Our youngest daughter is a freshman in college and is pursuing the nursing pathway, and she asks me often if I would choose the profession of nursing if I was in her position. My response – 100%, yes. I would choose this career again and again. I love being a nurse.

“What I would tell a new nurse joining the profession is there are two focus areas of nursing practice. There’s the science of nursing, and there is the art of nursing,” Aune explains.

“Science is what we learn in school. It’s the fundamentals, mathematics, and nursing diagnosis. And then there’s the art of nursing. The art is often what draws us into the profession, but when lost, it is also what often drives us away from the profession.

“It’s those relationships and connections with the patients and the family,” Aune said.

“It’s remembering that first patient whose hand you held while they were dying. It’s remembering the first patient that you gave CPR to. It’s remembering the first patients who recovered from a trauma and came back to visit you. Yes, sometimes it’s even cookies and flowers. That’s the art of nursing.”

Aune closes by sharing that during Nurse’s Week and throughout the year, we must remind ourselves and each other to remember our “why.” It is an honor and privilege to join the Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center and Brevard County communities!

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