UAB School of Nursing partnerships with VA, veterans continue to flourish

Strong relationships producing health care professionals who are well prepared to identify and care for veterans wherever they are
By Jimmy Creed
With unique partnerships, expanded educational, research and clinical practice initiatives, and an ever-growing sense of the tremendous need to better the lives of America’s heroes, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing continues to make improving health care for our country’s military veterans and their families a top priority.

UAB School of Nursing has long enjoyed strong relationships with the veterans’ community and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – particularly the Birmingham VA Medical Center (BVAMC). And those relationships continue to flourish in ways that are producing tremendous results within the School and tremendous appreciation among veterans.

“Memorial Day is a good time to acknowledge how much we value our veterans and their service,” said Professor and Associate Dean, Clinical and Global Partnerships Cynthia Selleck, PhD, RN, FNP, FAAN. “Our relationships and partnerships with them have allowed us to better prepare nurses to care for veterans and their families because we are able to focus on their health issues like very few other institutions in the country can.”

Since 2009, the School has had a formal partnership as one of 15 VA Nursing Academy sites in the U.S. Now called the VA Nursing Academic Partnership (VANAP), it pairs VA Medical Centers with accredited schools of nursing across the nation. UAB’s partnership is even more unique in that it is the only one nationwide made up of an undergraduate element, a graduate education element (VANAP-GE) and mental health nurse practitioner (MHNP) residency element.

The School’s tie with the BVAMC is considered one of the premier partnerships in the country by the VA’s Office of Academic Affiliations and in 2015 it was named the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Exemplary Academic-Practice Partnership Award winner. This award recognizes AACN member institutions involved in highly productive and model academic-practice partnerships.

Two other important veterans-related initiatives within the School are the Veterans Career Advancement in Nursing Program (Veterans CAN!) and the VA National Quality Scholars Program (VAQS), and all have marked significant milestones of late.

Since its inception in 2009, the initial VANAP goal has been to improve the recruiting and retention of baccalaureate nurses who possess the knowledge and skills to improve the health care of veterans. To date, 113 Bachelor of Science in Nursing students have been accepted as VA nurse scholars and 98 have graduated with 15 of those accepting positions at the BVAMC.

In 2013, the partnership was selected as one of four MHNP residencies nationally for a three-year pilot project with a goal of developing MHNP leaders who are well-prepared to work with veterans and who will be positioned for careers within the VA health system. Now in the third year of the program, the three cohorts of MHNP residents have devoted almost 10,000 hours to providing mental and behavioral health care to veterans at the BVAMC. Further, four of the first six residency graduates have been hired by the BVAMC.

The third cohort of three MHNP residents will graduate in September 2016 and four students have already been accepted to the fourth cohort, which will start in October 2016.

In 2014, the partnership grew to become the only VANAP in the country with a graduate education track for psychiatric MHNPs, and in its first year alone VANAP-GE students provided 1,130 mental health visits to veterans at the BVAMC.

They have also helped increase access to care and decrease time to follow-up appointments for veterans with the addition of a weekly after-hours clinic. The clinic, staffed by VANAP-GE faculty and students, has received national attention as a best practice.

The VANAP-GE currently has 11 enrollees who receive the bulk of their training at the BVAMC or in one of four regional community-based outpatient clinics.

Funded by the Health Research Services Administration, VCAN! is a special program which allows veterans, active duty personnel, National Guard and Reservists to transition into professional nursing by earning a baccalaureate degree in nursing (BSN).

The program recently celebrated its first graduate, Katelyn Camacho-Yau, an Air Force veteran from Corinth, Mississippi. There are currently 10 students representing the Air Force, Army and Navy enrolled in the BSN VCAN! Program.

“It is a pleasure to work with these students and see their successes,” said Assistant Professor and VCAN! Program Director Rhonda McLain, PhD, RN. “Their commitment, professionalism and leadership are an example to all our students.”

The BVAMC is one of eight VAQS sites nationally offering fellowships to pre- and post-doctoral nurses. It promotes leadership in quality improvement research and emphasizes inter-professional learning.

Donna Brown Banton Endowed Professor Pat Patrician, PhD, RN, FAAN serves as one of the senior scholars for the Birmingham site along with Carlos Estrada, MD, MS.

She wished farewell to the program’s most recent graduate, Tonya Breaux-Shropshire, PhD, RN and welcomed Elise Aucoin, Pharm.D, a recent graduate of Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy, who will do her fellowship work at the BVAMC.

“Elise brings a wide variety of past clinical experiences and is passionate about medication safety for patients,” Patrician said. “She will be a tremendous addition to our VAQS team.”

Selleck noted that, in true patriotic fashion, Alabama has deployed the third-largest number of servicemen and women to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan of any state over the last 15 years. In turn, this means graduates of the School are encountering more veterans, their families and their unique needs regardless of where they work within the state.

“We have deployed both active duty service members and reservists from all 67 Alabama counties,” Selleck said. “So no matter where our nurses practice, they are going to be working with veterans because most veterans actually aren’t seen in VA facilities. Through these partnerships we have educated a strong group of health care professionals who are well prepared to identify and care for veterans wherever they are.”

The partnerships have also led to a more veteran-centric curriculum and approach throughout the School, Selleck said.

“These robust partnerships have created a focus on veterans’ health issues, not just for our students in the VANAP programs, but for all our students,” Selleck said. “We have really worked to get nurses, both undergraduate and graduate-prepared, to better understand veterans and be better prepared to care for them.

“Our shared vision is to transform the care of veterans and their families by working collaboratively to educate compassionate, highly competent nurses and nurse practitioners, and I believe we have laid some very solid groundwork in our mission.”

Read 7724 times Last modified on May 25, 2016

Upcoming Events