FLATHEAD RESERVATION — Education is the great equalizer. It is also the great elevator that lifts some above and beyond, and it is a great inspirer that shows the possibilities of attainment of dreams and fulfillment of goals.
Education is something that Patricia Camel Kelly has taken advantage of to become a medical professional in public and governmental sector. It has lifted her up the ladder of military service as a Lt. Colonel — just two ranks below Brigadier General — in the U.S. Army, and allowed her to practice in Indian Country. She is now Dr. Patricia Kelly, after recently earning a PHD at Gonzaga University.
Kelly’s professional and personal achievements are inspirational guidance for her family and Indian Country.
“If anyone out there would listen to me, I would tell them to go to school, to college, to a trade school, to a vocational-technical school,” Kelly said. “They can help people get what they want in life.”
Patricia graduated from Ronan High School in the 1960s, then she attended Montana State University where she received a Registered Nurse degree in the late-1960s. After practicing her profession at various locations in Montana she worked for the Indian Health Service in the Flathead Reservation Service Unit.
“I didn’t need to go to college, but I wanted to,” Kelly said, adding that she was spurred to that end after being told by the high school counselor that she wasn’t college material, that perhaps a trade school would be a better path. “That motivated me to go to college. I had a desire to become a nurse since I was 10 years old so I had a long-term vision of becoming a nurse, then in high school I developed a desire to join the Army. Those were my goals.”
In the mid-1980s Kelly made a major step in her professional career by fulfilling her desire to join Army. She enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves, then in 1987 following a divorce, she joined the active duty Army.
While in the Army she took advantage of education opportunities and attended Tulane University in New Orleans where she earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health. She continued taking advantage of the educational opportunities by earning a Nurse Practitioner Master’s Degree at University of Texas El Paso. Following that she took post-graduate Nursing Practitioner courses at Clarkston College in Omaha, Nebraska.
“My education helped me personally and professionally,” Kelly said. “I wanted to continue to move up and education helped me reach my goals.”
Kelly served in various Army bases in the United States as well as overseas in Korea, Germany, three tours in Kuwait, and two tours in Iraq.
Due to the mandatory 60-year-old retirement policy of the Army, Lt. Colonel Kelly retired in December 2012. She eventually returned back to the Flathead Reservation and worked for the Tribal Health Department.
Kelly continued to further education while at THD and in late 2019 earned a PHD Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree from Gonzaga University. “I didn’t have to do this but I wanted to,” she said. “I still have educational opportunities under the G.I. Bill, I just might find something else to do.”
However, Kelly has something else to do on her plate right now. “While in the Army, I moved every three years or so. I enjoyed the experience of going to new places and meeting new people,” Kelly said. “I was thinking of going to Alaska after I finished with my Doctorate but I decided to take the opportunity of working for the Indian Health Service as Nurse Practitioner on the Fort Peck Reservation. I will be working in the Health Promotion, Disease Prevention program in the reservation schools.”
Her son, Rich Janssen, who earned a Master’s Degree from Gonzaga a few years earlier, said: “I knew mom expected me to go to college. She was my inspiration to further my education.”
Kelly said education has always been an important component of her life that began at home as a youngster.
“For me and my family, focusing on education would help us fulfill the many goals we set for ourselves. My educational foundation has allowed me to be able to do what I want to in these times and at my age,” Kelly said, adding that her large Camel family had to contribute with chores and had to maintain decent grades in school. Many of her siblings have gone on to receive a college education and/or have been successful in their employment opportunities.
Kelly has retired twice and is now coming out of retirement again. “I love my health care profession it has opened so many doors for me,” she said.
“I have a good profession, health care insurance, Social Security and Army retirement that provides me the opportunity to work when I want or not. That’s a good option to have but I want to work. I want to continue to affect people’s life in a good way,” Kelly said. “I hope I’m making inroads to help people health-wise. That’s why I’m going to Wolf Point, to the schools. It gives me an opportunity to work and talk to children. This is something I want to do, something I can do.”