CLASS OF 2024: Hope through heartbreak fuels Vanessa Morales’ mission to help expecting mothers

Watch Vanessa talk about her experiences by clicking through the Instagram scroller below.

By Amy Wolf
Every day, military veteran Vanessa Morales carries the profound love of her husband along with the weight of the tragedy from his death in military combat.

Vanessa Morales, Master of Science in Nurse-Midwifery (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

It’s that combination of resounding love and loss that drives the Bass Military Scholar in her mission to fulfill the couple’s shared dream of helping others through health care. Morales is doing this by earning a master of science in nurse-midwifery from the Vanderbilt School of Nursing.

“We met while we were in Fort Bragg, and we fell in love and married and had two children. It was a wonderful life,” Morales said. “Our plan was for him to go to physician assistant school, and I would move from a military intelligence non-commissioned officer and go into a military nursing program.”

But the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened, and their lives changed forever.

Morales was deployed to Iraq, and her husband, Allen, was sent to Afghanistan as a U.S. Special Forces medic. Their baby and toddler went to live with Allen’s parents.

Six months after deploying, Allen was killed in action, and Vanessa was forced to start a new chapter of her life.

“Everything I’ve done with my kids and with my life is to honor him and just to let him know that his life and all his sacrifices were not in vain,” she said.


Morales said it was an honor serving in the Army. She followed her grandfather and father into the military, serving a total of 12 years.

“I met my husband and my best friends in the military,” she said. “There’s a lot of sacrifice. But I would do it all over again.”

While in the Army, she trained soldiers on survival techniques at the SERE School, which stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape.

“SERE School helped me be resilient in everything that life throws me,” she said.

Morales was part of Vanderbilt’s first cohort in the Bass Military Scholars Program—which provides scholarships to highly talented veterans pursuing graduate and professional degrees across five Vanderbilt schools.

“It’s great because there’s a sense of community and camaraderie. We [Bass Scholars] take care of each other, and it feels good,” she said.


Morales started dreaming of being a nurse when she was a child growing up in Puerto Rico.

Vanessa Morales as a little girl in Puerto Rico (Submitted photo)

“Always I wanted to be a nurse. I just took the scenic route. I took a long route to get to where I am right now,” she said.

Morales is using her fluency in English and Spanish to forge special bonds as a nurse midwife.

“It’s a blessing to patients to be able to talk with them because they’re very vulnerable and can feel isolated sometimes because when not all the personnel know Spanish. And speaking through an interpreter or translation phone line is not the same as connecting with an individual with warmth and cultural links,” she said.


Morales chose Vanderbilt’s midwifery program for its reputation for rigor with compassion.

“They were the top midwifery school. The VUSN professors and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center preceptors were amazing. They want you to succeed, and they will help you to do so,” she said.

Morales shared a story that she said epitomizes the culture within Vanderbilt’s midwifery program.

“There’s a tradition where the director of the program washes your hands and kind of blesses your hands. That was very impactful and emotional,” she said. “The first birth, the first ‘catch’ was amazing. It was surreal. I knew this is where I’m supposed to be.”



“I always treat them with respect and listen to what they want. I am very touchy-feely, so I ask their permission, then I always put my hand on them, so they know they’re not alone. I don’t want them to feel isolated or alone. I want them to know that I’m there when needed at their most vulnerable time.”


“Vanderbilt is challenging. But in my experience, I can see the faces of my professors and my classmates, and it’s just warmth and support.”


“Honestly, there have been many people that have been mentors in my life, and they were leaders that I want to emulate. The top three are my father and my grandfather and my late husband, I would say. And now I want to honor with my life the way that I just give myself to others. It’s my purpose.”

“I have two female historical role models that I really look up to. Florence Nightingale was the pioneer of nursing, and Sarah Edmunds was a field nurse—and she was actually a spy for the Union. But there was a specific situation when she found herself with an enemy soldier who was mortally wounded. And instead of letting him die alone, she took care of him. And that, to me was so powerful and remained in my memory always because I think that’s what nursing is all about—caring for everybody, regardless of who they are and regardless of our differences.”

Vanessa Morales in the Vanderbilt School of Nursing (Submitted photo)
Hear more from Vanessa in our TikTok series Four with a ‘Dore below!

Learn more about VU2024’s Vanessa Morales via our Instagram (Link in bio).

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