Student News

Nursing grad, Army sergeant earns degree after deployment

Photo of Travis Fannin
After being deployed to Poland in 2020, Travis Fannin returned to UK to finish his education and will complete his bachelor's degree in nursing this week. Photo provided by Travis Fannin.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 14, 2023) — Ashland resident Travis Fannin has experienced a long, whirlwind journey toward earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky College of Nursing.

Inspired by his mother, a nurse dedicated “to providing dignity to others when they are most vulnerable,” Fannin began his academic career at Morehead State University before transferring to UK. In 2016, he joined the Kentucky Army National Guard as a combat medic, following in his Army father’s footsteps. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, he was first sent to Louisville to aid in pandemic relief before being deployed to Poland as part of Operation European Deterrence. After returning to the U.S. he “relearned how to be in college again” and credits his nursing academic advisor for helping him finally earn his bachelor’s degree, nearly a decade after he began. 

Before he walks across the stage and accepts his degree this Friday, UKNow caught up with Fannin to learn more about his educational and personal journey that brought him to this moment.

UKNow: Hi, Travis! Congratulations on your upcoming graduation. Will you tell us a bit about yourself and where you’re from?

Fannin: Hi there! Before spending much of my childhood in Ashland, Kentucky, my earliest memories include traveling the country and living in Germany while my dad was in the Army. During my middle and high school days, I discovered my passion for appreciating and making music as a French horn player at Paul G. Blazer High School under the direction of Roger Doss and Chris Whelan. I attended Morehead State University for two years as a biomedical sciences major where I joined the marching band and was an active member of the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity.

I later transferred to the University of Kentucky to pursue nursing and joined the Wildcat Marching Band. Band has been a core aspect of my identity and I think it shaped me into the person I am today. I am constantly inspired by music and how it can connect everyone from all walks of life in a way only it knows how to — with unconditional love. During my time at UK, I joined the Kentucky Army National Guard as a healthcare specialist (68W) for six years which included a deployment in 2020 as part of Operation European Deterrence.

UKNow: What led you to pursue a nursing degree at the University of Kentucky?

Fannin: During high school, my grandmother suffered from breast cancer and my mom stayed by her side in Washington, where she is originally from. Sadly, she passed away, which was devastating to our family. My mom pursued a nursing degree in her 40s and has been a nurse since. I was inspired by my mom’s message of providing dignity to others when they are most vulnerable. There is wealth in lending ourselves for the sake of adding goodness to the world and I want to be part of that. The University of Kentucky has a Nursing Med-Vet program, which provides opportunities for military veterans to pursue a nursing degree. I’ve always wanted to attend the University of Kentucky, so I thought this opportunity was perfect for me.

UKNow: What has your experience at UK and in the College of Nursing been like?

Fannin: My experience at UK has been great! During the three years I was in the Wildcat Marching Band, I attended football, basketball and volleyball games which was exciting considering I looked forward to experiences like this as a young band kid. I also went to three bowl games which were some of my greatest memories at UK. The College of Nursing has become a second home for me during this chapter of my life. I have always felt like my advisors and professors have cared for the success of their students. What I love about nursing school is that I am being prepared for my career while I am in classes. Since UK’s hospital is a teaching institution, I feel confident learning how to become a nurse during clinical experiences and each nurse I have worked with has been kind and helpful. The College of Nursing offers free tutoring on Fridays (First Aid Fridays) where we can practice nursing skills or chat with upperclassmen about coursework.

UKNow: Tell us about your experience in the military.

Fannin: In 2016, I joined the Kentucky Army National Guard as a healthcare specialist (or combat medic). Initially, I joined to help pay for my college and looking back it helped me early in my career as a health care professional. I reached the rank of sergeant and was a leader in my unit. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was tasked with aiding in COVID-19 relief in Louisville shortly before my deployment to Poland in 2020. Since the pandemic happened so suddenly during that spring semester, I had to retake those classes after I got back from my deployment. The deployment was hectic and quite frustrating logistically since military operations were shut down due to number of COVID-19 cases I saw in Poland. We worked five-to-six 12-hour shifts each week for 10 months which was incredibly exhausting. We ran out of oxygen a few times and the clinic I worked in was disorganized from the unit we inherited it from. I was tasked with designing and setting up a medical supply closet worth $50,000 with a week’s timeframe and I was later awarded an Army Achievement Medal for my contributions. COVID-19 was stressful and I missed my family greatly while being confined in another country across the world. Despite this, it was rewarding to have an important mission as a medical company.

UKNow: How did this experience impact your studies at UK? 

Fannin: It was really challenging to switch gears back to my nursing program once I got back. I was gone for two semesters, and I had to relearn how to be in college again. At first, I was excited to get back into the swing of things, but since I repressed my emotions during the deployment, anxiety and depression hit me hard once I was settled back in. I’ve read that our bodies keep a score with the trauma we experience, and mine was in overtime. I felt burnt out and confused with what to do with myself. I had to relearn much of the content I studied before I left, and I inevitably felt like I was behind on everything. I needed to seek therapy to figure out what was going on in my head. With the help of time, failing twice, therapy and getting back on my feet I started to figure everything out again.

UKNow: Tell us about finishing your degree — any special professors or people in CoN that helped you through this journey?

Fannin: Shaun Ketterman, my advisor, truly impacted me during my difficult time. My hardest class yet, High Acuity, was a huge roadblock to finishing my degree. It requires nursing students to retain the knowledge from early classes and apply it to higher-level nursing care which was difficult for me since I was gone for some time. Mr. Ketterman reached out to me with warm understanding about my circumstances and helped show me that I was going to survive the experience with the help of the support the CoN could provide. I truly felt like a failure, yet he saw me as a future nurse. I really needed that support, and I don’t think I would’ve completed my degree without his kindness and compassion. Dr. Stephanie Fugate, my High Acuity professor, also allowed me to continue attempting the class until I figured things out. I think the lesson I learned is that the CoN will work with students to realize their potential and I am grateful for that.

UKNow: How does it feel to finally graduate? 

Fannin: I feel optimistic and ecstatic! Graduating from UK has been a goal of mine for almost a decade, and to see it happening finally feels rewarding. I’ve learned that when things become difficult, we grow and learn from it. The same compassion and dignity I was shown during my time within the CoN is what I want to express to my future patients.

UKNow: What’s next?

Fannin: Passing the NCLEX and adding “RN” to my name. I also plan on working on a trauma medical-surgical floor here at UK. I look forward to being a nurse!

UK’s December 2023 Commencement Ceremonies will take place at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. They will also be livestreamed on YouTube. Visit or UKNow Friday to watch and learn more.

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