Alumni Spotlights

Roger Van Dyke, ’89: A 180-Degree Turnaround

  • on October 8, 2015
  • by Lisa M. McMahon, MA'09

Roger Van Dyke was not a traditional Niagara University student when he enrolled in the College of Nursing. He had been out of high school nearly a decade and had spent that time working various jobs and hanging out with his friends. When he took a position at a center for the developmentally disabled in his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., he discovered a passion for helping others and decided to pursue a career in nursing.

That decision changed his life, he says, as did the choice to pursue his studies at Niagara. He loved the people and the campus atmosphere, and soon came to realize that regardless of where he started in life, he could become someone who could make a difference in the lives of others.

He also discovered that his chosen profession could make a difference in his own life, as well. His early career took him to the Hopi reservation in Arizona, where he worked in the emergency room at the Hopi Health Care Center and was introduced to the community and its traditions; and to the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage as a commissioned officer with the US Public Health Service, where his future wife, Jane, was the medical director of the Community Health Aide Program and where their son, Tiernan, was born. These assignments afforded him unique opportunities that he would never have had elsewhere, including treating patients in the back of an ambulance and delivering babies, opportunities that he found both transformative and gratifying.

After eight years in Alaska, Roger and his family moved to Atlanta, Ga., when Jane received a post-graduate fellowship with the Center for Disease Control’s Epidemic Intelligence Service program. This began a new chapter in Roger’s life. He stayed home to care for his son for the first two years, and the two often traveled to Africa, where Jane was assigned.

When Tiernan started school, Roger decided to go back to work. Because he did not want to lose the time he had earned while in the Public Health Service, Roger took a commission in the Army Reserves. Shortly thereafter, he was called to active duty and moved to San Antonio, Texas, where, despite his lack of experience, he was assigned to the Army Burn Center at the Brooke Army Military Medical Center, part of the Army’s Institute of Surgical Research. He notes that nurses often don’t consider working in this specialty because it can be an emotional experience, but he loved his work and requested to stay on when his 18-month assignment ended. Instead, he was named evening night supervisor, another position for which he had no previous experience.

“That’s one of the beauties of wearing a uniform,” he says. “All people in uniform have huge amounts of responsibility and learn things that they never thought they would. It’s an experience that changes you.”

He remained there for another six months before returning to Atlanta and his family where, again, he needed to make a career decision. This time, he opted to take a position as a hospice nurse, another difficult specialty, that he calls his most memorable and fulfilling. He remained in that job until his retirement in 2014.

Today, he lives in Folly Beach, S.C., and is embarking on a new professional journey, that of public servant. A member of the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, his next step is to run for city council. In preparation, he took a job with Beach Patrol to meet the citizens and get to know their concerns.

“You can start out with no direction,” Roger admits, “but all of a sudden you go to one place or meet one person, and everything changes. When I started at Niagara, it was a 180-degree turnaround for me, and my life was completely different. I am thankful for my life and I understand what a privilege it is to live the way I have.”