By Stephanie Smith, Building Kentucky
Lt. Aaron Lueke loves his country, his family and the privilege of caring for others as a nurse.
“There’s just no other profession where you can have such an impact and provide so much comfort to those who are suffering,” Lueke said.
While Lueke always knew he wanted to be a nurse, he became more passionate about it when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and helped care for her.
He also knows about hard work and accomplishing goals. While working at UPS and CS Photography, he earned a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Louisville School of Nursing. He was able to graduate debt free by taking advantage of the Metropolitan College program, established by UPS, UofL Jefferson Community and Technical College and the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1998.
Now in his sixth year as an active-duty Navy nurse, Lueke is pursuing a master of science in nursing from the University of Kentucky College of Nursing. While admittedly a “die hard” Kentucky Wildcats fan, Lueke says he is building on the clinical skills he acquired at UofL in his current role as an ICU nurse at Camp Pendleton in San Diego.
“Thanks to UK’s online program, I can get my master’s degree from wherever I’m stationed,” Lueke said. “I’m learning about how to become a health care leader so that I can combine evidence-based business and finance solutions that are cost effective and improve patient outcomes.”
Lueke believes Kentucky’s two largest universities can collaborate to find solutions to the nursing shortage by working with state lawmakers to improve compensation for Kentucky nurses.
“We’re losing nurses to sister states like Tennessee where the cost of living is comparable, and nurses can make more money,” Lueke said.
While it’s not about the money for Lueke and other medical professionals, he believes more needs to be done to attract and retain health care professionals.
“We have to work together statewide to ensure the long-term viability of access to quality health care for all Kentuckians,” Lueke said. “We simply don’t have enough nurses to keep up with the demand and it’s not going to get any better unless we start thinking differently.”
UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto and Lueke both believe making health care accessible for all Kentuckians – no matter where they might live.
“We’re not the University of Lexington,” Capilouto said. “As Kentucky’s largest public university, UK has the interest of the entire Commonwealth and its largest city in mind to ensure the future of accessible health care for all.”
Lueke loves being a Navy nurse and caring for his fellow service members.
“It doesn’t matter what branch they’re in, they’re my brothers and sisters and I’m honored to care for them.”
A dedicated nurse, Lueke cared for Afghan refugees at Marine Core Base in Quantico, Va. In 2021, an experience he says was life-changing.
“You can’t imagine what it’s like for a pregnant mother who doesn’t understand the language in a strange place far from home; you take care of her and show her compassion,” Lueke said.
That same year, he assisted FEMA in administering COVID-19 vaccinations in Memphis. The prior year, he was deployed for six months as a flight nurse for a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
“Most of that year, I spent living in a hotel with my fellow Marines and sailors.”
Lueke’s long-term goal is to retire from the Navy when he is 43 years old and return home to his family in Louisville’s Valley Station neighborhood. When asked if he would pursue a civilian nursing career, the lieutenant didn’t hesitate for a moment with his answer.
“I still want to be a nurse in the private sector and use the skills I learned in the Navy to help others,” Lueke said. “I may even teach nursing some day.”