Health care for heroes

Health care for heroes

Nursing colleges, organizations join forces to improve care for veterans, service members

By Tracy Brown Wright

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden join participants from nursing organizations and schools for a group photo prior to a Joining Forces nurses event at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 11. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

As part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces initiative, the UF College of Nursing and the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System have committed to educating America’s future nurses to care for our veterans, service members and their families facing posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression and other clinical issues.

Kathleen Ann Long, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the UF College of Nursing, was one of only 20 nursing deans nationwide present in Pennsylvania April 11 when Obama and Jill Biden announced the commitment from nurses across the country eager to serve our veterans and military families. LeAnne Whitlow, associate director of nursing at the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, was also in attendance as a representative of local VA medical centers from across the country.

In partnership with the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System in 2007, the UF College of Nursing was one of the first four universities selected to receive a VA Nursing Academy, an initiative from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to address a shortage of nurses across the nation and ensure that veterans continue to receive high-quality care. Since its inception, the initiative has sparked improvements in nurse recruitment and retention at VA facilities, increasing nursing educational opportunities, enhancing clinical activities and improving nursing practice environments.

“I was proud to represent our college at an event that highlights the commitment to preparing nurses who will provide the best possible care for veterans and their families,” Long said. “Our already close partnership with our local VA through the VA Nursing Academy exemplifies our strong commitment to quality patient care for our nation’s veterans. It is our hope that the Joining Forces initiative will continue to strengthen that commitment as well as allow us to further educate our nursing students on the unique health needs for veterans.”

In a broad, coordinated effort, more than 150 state and national nursing organizations, including the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System and more than 500 nursing schools (including UF) have committed to further educate the nation’s 3 million nurses so they are prepared to meet the unique health needs of service members, veterans, and their families. The group has also committed to disseminating effective models for care and to sharing the most up-to-date information on medical conditions across academic and practice settings.

“Whether we’re in a hospital, a doctor’s office or a community health center, nurses are often the first people we see when we walk through the door,” Obama said. “Because of their expertise, they are trusted to be the frontline of America’s health care system.”