For Richard Slonski, '08, Military Service Changed Career Trajectory to Nursing

By Tony Scott

Richard Slonski, '08, with his wife, Caitlin, and daughter Amelia Rose,
before a Nashville Predators / Chicago Blackhawks game.

When Richard Slonski graduated from NIU with a Bachelor of Science degree in criminology and a political science minor in 2008, he wanted to be a police officer. To stand out from the competition, he decided to join the Army. That decision ended up changing the trajectory of his career to entering the healthcare field.

On April 12, 2024, Slonski is being honored with other military veterans at the Chicago Blackhawks game as the team takes on the Nashville Predators at the United Center. For Slonski, who now lives in Nashville, the honor will be extra sweet.

“My brother-in-law is an Army veteran as well and will be recognized at the same game, so it will be a really cool experience to be recognized with him,” Slonski said. “A lot of our family and friends will be attending the game to support us. Deploying with a unit out of Germany, none of my family or friends were able to attend the unit’s redeployment ceremony, so it will be like the redeployment reception I never had.”

Slonski said he grew up a big hockey fan, plus his dad played hockey and his mother is a big Blackhawks fan.

“I watched any games I could and played ice, roller or street hockey whenever I had the chance,” he said. “I have hung up the skates as far as playing, but still love watching the game. Living in Nashville now, I have had half-season tickets to the Predators for a few years. I cheer on the Preds and own a few of their jerseys. However, when the Blackhawks are in town, you’ll find me at Bridgestone Arena in my Blackhawks sweater cheering for my hometown team.”

Slonski grew up in Lake Zurich, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago. His father, Richard James, was in the printing trades and his mother Diane, coincidentally, recently retired after four decades as a nurse.

Slonski remembers being active on campus at NIU in both his fraternity and athletics. He pledged Sigma Alpha Epsilon during his freshman year and joined NIU Lacrosse – he had been active in lacrosse club during high school. 

“I held minor and executive office positions in Sigma Alpha Epsilon and served as president of NIU Lacrosse my senior year,” he said. “Being a member of these organizations had a positive impact on my NIU experience. To give back to NIU's Greek system, I am one of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon's alumni advisors and serve on NIU's newly founded IFC Alumni Board as Sigma Alpha Epsilon's representative.”

Slonski also recalled two graduate teaching assistants, Kumar and Yuri, who helped him during MTH211 (Calculus for Business and Social Science) and Chem 211.

“Both were amazing educators who were both personable and professional that helped me learn the materials for their respective courses,” he said. “I try to emulate how these two conducted themselves when I interact with my students in my adjunct work as a college instructor.” 

After graduating from NIU, Slonski joined the Army in March 2009 and enlisted in the Medical Corps as a behavioral health technician, assigned to Alpha Company Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Landstuhl, Germany, in the center’s inpatient psychiatric unit. Two years later, he was deployed to Afghanistan.

“In 2010, I deployed with the 254th Medical Detachment out of Miesau, Germany, and spent most my deployment in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan,” he said. “Captain (now Lieutenant Colonel) Scott Burch and I were responsible for the psychological health of all the service members in the province. As an EMT, I would also provide medical care to battlefield casualties and local nationals. After my deployment, I went back to LRMC before transferring to Fort Campbell, Kentucky with Charlie Company, 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 101st Airborne Division where I worked outpatient psychiatry.”

Slonski said his Army deployment changed his career goal from being a police officer to staying in the healthcare field. He went back to college, earning his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Belmont University, and a Master of Health Administration degree from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

“As a nurse, I have worked in intensive care units, emergency departments, and quality management,” he said. “I completed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Graduate Health Administration Training Program, Administrative Fellowship at the Marion VA in Marion, Illinois, where I learned how to manage a large healthcare system. My last full-time position, I was the accreditation readiness specialist at the Tennessee Valley VA ensuring that the healthcare system maintained accreditation with various accrediting agencies.”

Slonski left his full-time job to spend time with his one-year-old daughter, Amelia Rose. He currently has two part-time positions in the healthcare field: as a registered nurse in the Nuclear Medicine Department at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he primarily helps conduct various nuclear medical tests that assess patients’ cardiac functions, and as an adjunct instructor at Belmont University, working with senior nursing students.

Slonski said his job as a nurse is filled with rewards and challenges.

“The most rewarding part of my job as a nurse is helping people,” he said. “There is not a better feeling in the world when you work in the ICU, and you get to extubate a patient who was sick and get to send them back home with their family to live another day."

As he continues to work in the healthcare field, Slonski's commitment to helping others will undoubtedly make a positive impact on the lives of many. And as he steps out on the ice on April 12, he will not only be representing his country and his fellow veterans but also serving as an inspiration for everyone who aspires to make a difference in the world.