Written by Jennifer Lollar
The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing has received a four-year, $1.2 million grant from the Health Services Resources Administration to develop a program to help veterans with military medical experience more easily transition into the nursing profession.
The program, Veterans Career Advancement in Nursing (Veterans CAN!), is designed to provide veterans with military medical experience or training — especially those working as patient care technicians, licensed practical nurses or in unlicensed positions — the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. It offers a number of benefits, including course credit for skills classes, like those that teach starting an IV and taking basic vital signs, that all undergraduate nursing students are required to take — skills these veterans would have mastered in military roles.“There are many veterans who served in the medical corps and have so much to offer patients, especially other veterans in both veteran and traditional hospital settings,” said Rhonda McLain, DSN, assistant professor and program director. “It is important we recognize the contributions of military medical training and experience while we increase the diversity of the professional nursing workforce that is equipped to provide culturally competent, high-quality care to rural and underserved populations in Alabama and surrounding states.”
McLain says the goals of the program include increasing enrollment and retention rates of veterans, especially those from rural and underserved communities, with the goal of graduating eight students each year of the four-year grant. It will also provide educational, professional, personal and social support for the students, and it will allow for the development of additional programs to enhance the faculty’s knowledge, skills and attitudes regarding the unique needs of veterans enrolled in the undergraduate nursing program at UAB.
She adds that UAB is a VA Yellow Ribbon School, which is a university-wide partnership with the Veterans Administration to provide benefits to qualified students — individuals seeking an undergraduate degree who are entitled to 100 percent Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and UAB has a well-established recruitment effort for veterans. The Veterans CAN! recruiter will collaborate with UAB Campus Veterans Services to maximize recruitment efforts for the program.
“We are targeting our recruitment efforts on military units in the Southeast, transfer students from community and four-year colleges in Alabama, current UAB pre-nursing students and clinical agencies in the local area,” McLain said. “Alabama has more than 400,000 veterans, and many live in rural and underserved areas. We hope the students who complete this program will return to these areas to practice, serving other veterans and the population at large.”
The Veterans CAN! grant is the latest in a long line of programs the UAB School of Nursing offers or participates in that are geared toward veterans and their families. These include:
The School of Nursing and the Birmingham VA Medical Center are one of an elite group of VA Nursing Academy sites in the United States, which partners VA Medical Centers with accredited schools of nursing with the goal of providing compassionate, highly educated nurses to meet the health care needs of America’s heroes.
The School of Nursing joined the ranks of hundreds of nursing schools and organizations in 2012 in the Joining Forces initiatives and is dedicated to educating nursing students on post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other unique health care needs of veterans and their families.
A DVD developed by the School of Nursing and the Birmingham VA contains three clinically relevant mental health scenarios for nurses that simulate nurses’ caring for veterans experiencing depression, PTSD and other mental conditions on a typical VA medical-surgical floor. The DVD is accompanied by a guidebook and information necessary for obtaining 1.0 CEU and is used by VA Medical Centers nationwide.
UAB is part of the Birmingham VA’s role as one of eight VA National Quality Scholars Program sites in the United States. UAB School of Nursing Professor Pat Patrician, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, and School of Medicine Professor Carlos Estrada, M.D., M.S., serve as senior scholars for the Birmingham site. The scholars program promotes leadership in quality improvement research and emphasizes interprofessional learning. The program offers fellowships to pre- and postdoctoral nurses.
The School of Nursing offers“Caring for America’s Heroes,” a distance-accessible, elective course designed to increase students’ understanding of long-term and high-acuity internal and external environmental variables that affect the health of veterans within the Veterans Healthcare Administration. Knowledge gained in this course can be applied to the care of VHA patients across a variety of care settings.
Working together, the School of Nursing and the Birmingham VA have developed and use clinical-simulation scenarios to highlight the unique health care needs of veterans. The scenarios include burn, gunshot wound, automobile accident and obstetrics simulations. The benefits of simulation training include practicing and making mistakes in a risk-free environment and identifying sources of error in care processes prior to practice.
“At the UAB School of Nursing, we believe all Americans deserve access to outstanding care and education, especially our veterans and their families,” said Dean Doreen Harper, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN. “Through this new program, our school is committed to advancing the education of, and creating new, nurses to support those who have served in the military, as well as their families, while helping serve the needs of many other people in Alabama and beyond in rural and underserved areas. We are proud to be a part of a school and university that have exceptional education and health care programs serving veterans’ needs.”
“Alabama has close to half a million men and women who have served our country in war and peacetime, most of whom are wartime veterans,” McLain said. “This program honors their experience and service, while providing the tools necessary for a successful nursing career. It’s a win for the student and for the profession.”