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Leading with empathy: A Master Sergeant's story

Elizabeth Saltigerald posing for a headshot against a tan background.
Elizabeth Saltigerald. Wound, ostomy and continence nurse and team lead at San Francisco VA Health Care System.

Within the depths of our great nation, amidst the uniformed heroes, lies a story of resilience and boundless compassion.

Meet Elizabeth Saltigerald, Veteran and extraordinary individual who serves as both a nurse with San Francisco VA Health Care System and a dedicated Master Sergeant in the Air Force Reserve where she serves as a medical technician. Influenced by her military service and personal experiences, Elizabeth’s journey embodies dedication, empathy, and a commitment to the well-being of her fellow Veterans.

Inspired to volunteer for the Air Force Reserve in the aftermath of the tragic 9/11 attacks, Elizabeth began her military career in 2001 as a military police officer (MP) showcasing tremendous commitment and courage.

Injured while on Title 10 orders in Milwaukee, Saltigerald used that off time to return to school and pursue her bachelor’s degree. Originally intent on majoring in criminal justice, which would build on her experience as a MP, a supervisor said to her, “the Air Force is going to pay for you to get a degree, you should go into nursing.”

While visiting her local VA to submit an injury claim, she sat in the waiting area, watched, and made a decision.

“For me, it was a self-promise at that point. That’s where I was going to work and hopefully make a little bit of a difference.”

Having traversed the demanding journey of a service member, she possesses a unique understanding of the physical and emotional challenges faced by her fellow Veterans. Beginning her career as a spinal cord injury nurse, Elizabeth’s experiences within the VA health care system as both a caregiver and a patient forged an unbreakable bond rooted in empathy.

“You’ve got to look at that person in the bed like ‘that could be me!’” Saltigerald said. “We all have a connection to a servicemember that could potentially be in that bed. We need to treat them as such.”

This bond propels her to deliver exceptional care, ensuring the holistic well-being of the Veterans in her care, and championing their rights with determination.

Leading with empathy is not a surprise if one knows Elizabeth Saltigerald. Serving as a National VA Pride representative, empathy plays a large part in her role.

“This work is too important,” Saltigerald said. “My daughter is a member of this community. I feel it is my duty, as a mother, to make things better.”

Elizabeth Saltigerald’s remarkable journey as a nurse and a devoted medical technician in the Air Force Reserve and VA showcases her commitment to the well-being of her fellow Veterans. Informed by her military service, she brings a unique perspective to her nursing practice, driven by empathy and a deep understanding of the challenges faced by those under her care. Her dual roles embody dedication, compassion, and an unyielding desire to make a positive impact on the lives of Veterans. Elizabeth’s story serves as an inspiration, reminding us that through a single individual’s unwavering commitment, we can ignite profound change. We are proud to call her a member of our team here at San Francisco VA Health Care System.

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