News Story

BSN Alumna and U.S. Navy Commander to Keynote GU Veterans Day Ceremony

November 11, 2020 – Commander Hannah (Castillo) Starnes (NHS’05), a BSN alumna who received a certificate in international health, is a nurse in the United States Navy who serves as director for mental health at Naval Hospital Jacksonville in Florida. This afternoon, she will offer the keynote address at the Georgetown University Veterans Day Virtual Ceremony, cosponsored by the Georgetown University Student Veterans Association and the Office of the President. Visit Facebook for the archived event video.

Commander Hannah C. Starnes (NHS’05) in her naval uniform in front of the United States flag and the United States Navy flag
Commander Hannah C. Starnes (NHS’05)

Starnes says, “I am thankful for my Georgetown education in that it laid a good academic foundation to be able to deliver the best quality care to our service members and their families. They deserve nothing but the best health care.”

Question: Tell us about your education after Georgetown and career in the United States Navy. 

Starnes: After Georgetown University, I began my career in nursing in the Navy. I found myself living overseas and deploying all over the world for various missions and working in different clinical arenas: medical/surgical, PACU, ICU, ambulatory, and community health. I found that as naval officers we are thrown into positions of leadership early in our careers. I figured, if they were going to keep putting me in leadership positions, then I needed to become more educated, but as a senior nurse leader. 

I then realized that I wanted to get my master of science in nursing (MSN), but that I also wanted to focus on executive leadership. A year after my MSN graduation from Benedictine University, I was given the opportunity by the Navy to attend another master’s program, but this time in a military setting at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. They only had two seats for medical officers each trimester, so to be selected was an honor. The degree is a master of arts in national defense and strategic studies, studying war campaigns and national strategy for our nation’s security. I wrote several papers on how humanitarian aid and subject matter exchange between the U.S. and other partner nations – through medical care – allow for increased interoperability and gaining strategic access to remote countries in the world.  

During the program, I was able to learn with fellow Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, U.S. Marshall, CIA, FBI, and other affiliated international military officers. It was definitely an experience being the only nurse and female in almost all of my seminar classes. Seminars and courses had rich discussions and encouraged open debate regarding national security issues and the current global environment from a military standpoint. 

Question: How did you become interested in mental health? What are some of your goals in your current position as director of mental health?

Starnes:  I became really interested in mental health after my tour in Afghanistan in 2010. I realized from being “boots on ground” myself that there was a huge need for service members to be able to have access to mental health. Warfare is unlike any other experience for our Armed Forces. Our service members are heroes and deserve to be able to process what they have seen and experienced while deployed overseas on ships, in aircraft, patrolling on ground, or even taking care of wounded. My goal as the director of mental health in our hospital is to make sure that our service members have access to mental health care and are ready for their duties including combat, surface warfare, special operations, and aviation. Mental health is one of the key components of military readiness. 

Question: How do you feel the BSN Program at Georgetown prepared you for your nursing career? What stands out about your education? 

Starnes: I think the BSN program at Georgetown prepared me not only to engage my intellect and fall back on my academic understanding of clinical care, but also to see the patient holistically. It was a good foundation before taking my nursing licensure exam, and I felt academically prepared to be an RN. 

I truly appreciated earning the international health certificate and all of the courses that I had to take for that. It allowed me to think outside of the United States and about the global health challenges that medicine faces, and it widened my aperture of nursing. I also consistently run into fellow Georgetown alumni in the Armed Forces, and it is reassuring to serve alongside them.

Question: What are some of the themes you will address in your keynote speech today? 

Starnes: My speech will be focused on the dual roles of a health care professional and naval officer and the balance of the two, service, values, and persistence.

Question: What is some advice you would give to nursing students, including students who are planning to enter the military?

Starnes: You are about to embark on an adventure unlike any other. My advice:

  • Be open, flexible, and adaptive to change
  • Experience as much as you can while in the military
  • Expect to be pushed out of your comfort zone consistently
  • Mental fortitude and resilience are key
  • Enjoy being part of the “military family”
  • Build lifelong relationships and create memorable experiences

Question: Anything else you’d like to add?

Starnes: After 15 years in the military as a Navy nurse, I would never change anything about my career. I’ve been able to travel to over 40 countries because of the military. I’ve experienced many different cultures. I’ve learned from other countries and how they practice nursing and medicine. It is truly an honor to serve our nation’s heroes and to help support our warfighters. I am thankful for my Georgetown education in that it laid a good academic foundation to be able to deliver the best quality care to our service members and their families. They deserve nothing but the best health care.