Stony Brook Helps Veterans Become Nurses

Nov 11, 2014, 1:00 PM, Posted by Lori Escallier

Lori Escallier, PhD, RN, CPNP, is a professor and associate dean for evaluation and outcomes at the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Nursing. She is her university’s project director for a program that helps veterans earn baccalaureate degrees in nursing (VBSN) and for New Careers in Nursing, a program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) that supports second-career nurses in accelerated master’s and baccalaureate nursing programs.

Human Capital Blog: Please tell us about your university’s program for nursing students who are veterans.

Lori Escallier: The project is entitled Enhancing the Nursing Workforce: Career Ladder Opportunities for Veterans. The purpose is to increase the enrollment, retention and educational success of veterans in the baccalaureate nursing program at Stony Brook. Our program operationalizes the collaborative efforts of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by providing opportunities for veterans to transition into nursing careers.

HCB: How is the VBSN program helping to build a Culture of Health that more effectively serves veterans?

Escallier: One of the project’s aims is to enhance the nursing workforce with veterans. Veterans certainly have a good understanding of the needs of other veterans and their families. Who better to promote a Culture of Health for veterans than those who have “walked the walk?”

HCB: Why is the program needed?

Escallier: The vets we recruit into our program have experience as medics and as corpsmen. We assess their clinical skills and we award credit for their military experience. It addresses a need for more nurses in the health care system and also provides employment opportunities for veterans who come back from military service and aren’t able to find jobs. They have all these skills, including valuable leadership skills, but it’s difficult for some veterans to assimilate into civilian life. Veterans, for example, have high divorce rates, experience mental health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), experience sleep problems, and more.

At the same time, the program helps diversify the nursing workforce. The population of veterans is very diverse; it basically mirrors the population of the United States. This program increases the number of nursing students from underrepresented backgrounds, and a more diverse nursing workforce will improve health and health care in our increasingly diverse country.

HCB: How does it work?

Escallier: We have a VA office on campus that reaches out to veterans and provides them with all the necessary support services they need to be successful students. We offer a course that helps veterans transition to civilian life. We help them understand they have done an extraordinary thing through their service, but with that come some difficulties and challenges. We are there to help them confront and face those challenges head on so they can be successful. In addition, we educate our faculty about how to identify and support students with PTSD and other challenges.

HCB: Can you tell us about the mentorship aspect of the program?

Escallier: This is where RWJF comes in. Stony Brook is one of the schools that has been selected to participate in New Careers in Nursing (NCIN), a program supported by RWJF and AACN that provides $10,000 scholarships to college graduates without nursing degrees who are enrolled in accelerated baccalaureate and master’s degree nursing programs. During the program, NCIN scholars participate in an intensive mentoring program and then they, in turn, mentor participants in our VBSN program. The level of camaraderie between the two groups is amazing to me. They take care of each other and I, in turn, take care of all of them. Seeing this in action has been one of the best aspects of my 33-year career.

HCB: How do veterans respond to the program?

Escallier: They’re doing great. They’re not without problems. A lot of the veterans are working and attending accelerated programs at the same time, because they have to, and some are single parents. But they always engage in the program. And as soon as we identify a problem, we go into high gear and provide everything that is needed. It’s a pleasure to work with them. It’s an honor, actually. They have leadership experience, and they have a high level of respect for others, and they have a love of country. They are highly committed to the program, and they do whatever it takes to succeed. It’s a perfect fit.

HCB: What do you hope the VBSN program’s legacy will be?

Escallier: The program offers four-year grants, and each year we increase the number of participants. We had eight veterans start last January, and will accept another 16 in January. We are funded through 2017. By then, we will hopefully have educated a total of 70 veterans. I’m sure the mentorship program will continue after the VBSN scholarship program concludes. And we have made a commitment to identifying applicants and students who are veterans so we can keep our commitment to “hire a hero.” After this program ends, we will continue to make a concerted effort to recognize the sacrifices, the skills and the experience of our veterans.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.