Former Army Sergeant Earns Nursing Degree at Simpson University
For Immediate Release
REDDING, Calif. - With more than a dozen nurses in his extended family, the last career field Jay Bitner aspired to was healthcare.
“I never gave it a second thought – it was not something I was interested in,” he said.
But when Bitner, 29, crosses the stage Thursday night inside Simpson University’s Heritage Student Life Center, he’ll be receiving his nurse’s pin—a tangible acknowledgement of his new Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
His mom, Cathy—one of those family nurses—will attach the pin to her son’s black scrubs.
“She’s all for it,” Bitner said. “She just never expected it.”
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to missionary parents, Bitner spent his first 14 years in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country—an experience that helped shape his global perspective.
His family then moved to Pennsylvania, where Bitner asked his parents to sign a waiver so he could join the Army at age 17. The next six years were difficult, as he saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, struggled with his faith, and “basically hit rock bottom,” he said.
On leave from Iraq, Bitner visited his brother in Canada and encountered people who prayed for him in an intensely personal way. “I saw something real for the first time,” he said. “I wanted that but was still too stubborn and hard-hearted.”
He finally reached a point in Afghanistan where, he said, he didn’t know what else to do. “I was struggling with wanting to live,” he said. As he lay on his cot one day, he said he felt God’s presence so strongly he almost couldn’t breathe. He called his brother and decided it was time to leave the military. He left as a sergeant, after five years of active duty and one with the National Guard.
Bitner went to a ministry school in Canada, then to Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding. When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, killing more than 200,000 people and displacing more than a million, he traveled with a relief team to help translate.
As his group prayed for earthquake victims alongside doctors, something clicked for Bitner. “For the first time I was seeing the medical aspect working along with the supernatural. I thought, that’s incredible,” he said. “I came home wanting to do more with that.”
That seed, planted in his country of origin, sprouted when he learned about Simpson University’s new School of Nursing. “I just jumped into it,” he said. “I had never taken the SATs, never wanted to do college.”
He admits he found it overwhelming at first. But he made friends and connections with his professors—and one day, he said, the classwork and clinical experiences started connecting for him. “I thought, I can do this,” he said.
On April 14, Bitner was one of nine classmates inducted into Simpson’s new Honor Society of Nursing. The inductees comprise the top third of their graduating class.
While at Simpson, Bitner spent his summers traveling to Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, and Panama—alone or with a friend—bringing a basic medical kit and a heart to pray for and serve the local people.
He recalls having a taxi driver drop them off in a Colombian neighborhood the driver wouldn’t go into. “There were long-term meth addicts, people literally eating food off the streets, kids sniffing glue,” he said. “We went in and prayed for people, hugged them. They just wept.”
Seeing many medical issues reaffirmed his desire to become a nurse, to be able to offer physical aid as well as spiritual solace. Bitner plans to return to the East Coast after graduation to get experience in shock trauma or emergency medicine. Eventually he would like to work with children, especially those involved in human trafficking.
“When I was in the military and would see that, it made me angry,” he said. “Now I want to go help in whatever capacity possible.”
“Nursing is something tangible that can make a difference in multiple ways,” he said. “I don’t want to be jaded with the pain I’ve seen—this helps balance that.”
Simpson University is a Christian university offering undergraduate, graduate, and teaching credential programs. Academic programs include ASPIRE, a degree-completion program geared toward working adults in the north state. Simpson’s newest programs include bachelor's degrees in Spanish and nursing, and master’s degrees in counseling psychology and organizational leadership. Learn about our new Science & Nursing Building at simpsonu.edu/snbuilding. For information about the university, or to arrange a campus visit, call 1-888-9-SIMPSON or visit simpsonu.edu.
Contact: SU Public Relations