Hannah Victor Nu’17 L’18 always knew she wanted to pursue careers in both law and nursing, but she never would have predicted her current career in the Air Force, where she serves as both a nurse and the chair of the Biomedical Ethics Steering Group at Travis Air Force Base in California.
“I was writing my ‘Why Penn?’ essay, scouring the website,” she said, recalling the Penn undergraduate application process. “I found the BSN/JD submatriculation program, and it was perfect.”
Victor was not only the first, but also remains the only person to have completed the BSN/JD program at Penn. For Victor, the two subjects coincide as means of advocating for people, especially those who are at their most vulnerable and who may not be able to advocate for themselves. Though Victor initially anticipated entering the legal field right after graduation, her professors and mentors at Penn encouraged her to gain experience as a nurse first. A classmate gave her the idea to seek this experience in the military.
“One of my good friends at the Law School was actually in the Army. We would meet each other on the train inadvertently because we were always on the last subway coming into 34th Street before our 9 a.m. class,” Victor said. “I asked him about his experience and his background and why people joined the military. It’s not something that had occurred to me as a possible career path for myself. He told me some people do it because they really believe in America and that’s a way they can show that. That really stuck with me and got me thinking, ‘Why wouldn’t I join the military?’”
Victor was born in the United States, but growing up, her parents and family members who immigrated to America from India often reminded her of the myriad of opportunities this country made possible. For Victor, the decision to join the military was reflective of her deep belief in America and the ideals it represents.
“My grandfather used to say that America is a land of milk and honey, which is a biblical reference to demonstrate how abundant America is in what it can offer and the opportunities it can provide,” Victor said. “Joining the military really did fit in with the values I hold, uphold, and really care about.”
Today, Victor’s primary duties are as a nurse at Travis Air Force Base. She works 13-hour shifts, three or four days a week, caring for veterans, active-duty military, and dependents. Over the past year, she deployed for two separate missions to treat patients in areas of the country where COVID-19 cases surged. Through it all, Victor emphasized the strength and resiliency of her patients and of the health care workers working alongside her, both across the country and around the world.
In addition to her work as a nurse, Victor also chairs the Biomedical Ethics Steering Group at Travis Air Force Base. This committee is on-call 24/7 and is tasked with navigating a range of ethical issues that may arise in the hospital, including end-of-life care, parental rights, and informed consent. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Victor and her interdisciplinary team created a plan for how the base hospital would allocate resources in the event of a surge in cases; thankfully, the hospital never had to implement the plan.
Victor reflected that her role as the Bioethics Chair feels “providential,” considering how much she focused on the topic during her time as a student at Penn Law, taking as many courses as she could in the subject. Applying what she learned to real situations has been, in her words, “absolutely amazing, and simultaneously humbling.”
In spite of the fact that Victor works in an organization so large, hierarchical, and historic as the U.S. military, she continues to strive to be a change agent, always looking for ways to improve circumstances for her patients and her colleagues. Victor acknowledged that working within the military’s regimented system came with a significant learning curve; nonetheless, she credits the experience with helping her improve her advocacy skills.
“I think taking this brain and putting it into the military has been challenging,” Victor said. “But I’ve grown so much. I’ve learned to work with people and to prioritize and to think through what is going to lead to sustainable and effectual change.”
Providing care for her patients remains her favorite part of her job, even when determining the type of care they need presents a challenge. She credits the critical thinking skills she developed as a student at Penn with helping her to piece together the “puzzle” of a patient’s care plan. Moreover, Victor also thrives in the interpersonal element.
“I love being right there at the bedside with patients, going the extra mile to give them water or hold their hand or ease their pain,” she said. “And to see the happiness on their face when they get discharged, or to give them a little bit of hope for discharge, if they have to go on to rehab. I love to give them that little hope that they can get through this.”
Victor knows she will not stay in her current position forever and is already making plans for the future. One day, she would like to start an adult day care, similar to one she worked at while she was a student at Penn.
“Do I know how to start a business?” she asked, laughing. “No. But I’ll figure it out.”
Victor offers poignantly simple advice for other law students and lawyers seeking to use their Penn Law education in innovative, interdisciplinary ways: If you want to do something different, do it.
“Don’t compare yourself with other people, because what other people want to do might not be what you want to do. And that’s okay,” she said. “That horizontal comparison can bring us down. It can limit us so much. It’s a bit arbitrary, really. Who’s to say you have to do something by a certain age or certain point in your career? You can do whatever you want to do, especially with an education from Penn Law.”