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Giving Medics A Path To Civilian Nursing

It may seem counterintuitive – but a military medic or corpsman, trained to save lives in combat and provide health care at home, does not qualify for most civilian medical jobs.

What’s worse – many veterans are at a competitive disadvantage when seeking admittance into nursing colleges.

So in 2013, the federal government funded pilot programs at nine universities to create curriculums so veterans, medics and corpsmen can earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

It’s called V-CARE - Creating Access to Registered Nurse Education for Veterans. And the University of South Florida was awarded one of the initial grants.

USF College of Nursing associate dean Rita D’Aoust said the medics and corpsmen are an untapped pool of talented and medically trained veterans just going to waste.

“There were over 11,000, in 2011, unemployed medics and corpsmen as they were leaving the service,” D’Aoust said. “At the same time, we’re facing a nursing shortage.”

D’Aoust, who is a nurse practitioner with a doctorate in teaching, took the lead creating USF’s medic to nurse program after a sentinel event.

“A dear mentor, colleague and friend - her son lost his life in service to this country as an Air Force pilot. His tact - who also happened to be a medic - the best position he can get was working as an EMT in a state that actually pays minimum wage. I thought what a travesty of justice,” D’Aoust said.

Medics and corpsmen have the skills to perform some medical procedures in the military that Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners do in civilian life. Yet, D’Aoust said many of them are at a disadvantage when competing for admission into nursing programs because their GPAs tended to be a little lower.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
The V-CARE nursing students lounge has a bank of computers to help with their studies.

“They’re taking courses when they’re deployed. They’re taking courses while they’re working 16 hours,” D’Aoust said. “Sofor these individuals, we’ve discovered there’s more than the GPA.”

Three of the original nine V-CARE programs are in Florida. The other two are at Jacksonville University and Florida International University.

To design USF’s 16-month program, D’Aoust held focus groups with veterans, educators and “veteran friendly” universities. She even looked at similar programs that failed to avoid their mistakes. And she reached out to Janet Davis, a senior vice president and chief of nursing for Tampa General Hospital.

“The V-CARE program that USF started has been a great program. Number one they gave credit to the veterans for experience. That doesn’t happen often in nursing education programs,” Davis said.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / w
The entry door into the V-CARE nursing student lounge at the USF College of Nursing.

USF gives their veteran nursing students up to 16 credits for their military medical experience and they don’t have to take some of the introductory classes.

The V-CARE students also do their clinical training is at TGH which Davis said is a perfect match for the Level One hospital that handles trauma patients.

“They’re hard working individuals, know how to deal with stress, know how to deal with crisis and can keep things calm,” Davis said.

In fact, TGH hired one of the first 10 who graduated from USF’s V-CARE program in December.

Air Force Reserve medic and registered nurse, Willamina Folks, still had a bounce in her step as she exited TGH after finishing a 12-hour shift in the ICU, Intensive Care Unit.

“I’m just blessed with a job and something I really enjoy doing,” Folks said. “I get to help people.”

Folks liked that the program could be completed in just over a year, provided V-CARE students with supportive teachers and a military liaison, also called the sequence director, who was former military and talked their lingo.

“I’m grateful they came up with this program. I think military medics are going to benefit from it,” Folks said. “The military trains us well enough to be able to transition and do well in a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program.”

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
The small lounge area gives the former medics and corpsmen a quiet place to study at the USF College of Nursing.

One of the many components contributing to the USF V-CARE program success at USF, said D’Aoust, is a small study lounge established specifically for the medics and corpsmen.

It’s furnished with lime green sofas and chairs, a bookcase, five computers and a separate study area with a whiteboard, microwave and refrigerator.

D’Aoust said the students are most proud of a quilt donated by the USO and an American Flag that flew over the Capital donated by U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

She said it’s critical to provide a restful setting for the veterans’ some of whom may be recovering from combat injuries.

“These individuals have had their buddies die in their arms,” D’Aoust said choking up a little. “So, these individuals come into our program having seen some of the worst atrocities that humans can do to each other. They have that sense of honor, that dedication, the service. And they come into the nursing program and they’re just thrilled to have this chance.”

And taking a chance on the non-traditional nursing students is paying off. The first V-CARE class of 10 had a 100 percent graduation rate and the second class of 23 medics and corpsmen is on track to do the same this December.

USF also started a national webinar to share their V-CARE ideas and is consulting with other colleges who want to start a medic to nurse program.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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