VA Nurse Executive Drawn to the Mission of Caring for Veterans and to Being Part of an Elite Team

VA Nurse Executive Drawn to the Mission of Caring for Veterans and to Being Part of an Elite Team

VA Nurse Executive Valerie Rodriguez-Yu serves on the executive leadership team at the 567-bed South Texas Veterans Health Care System.

For more than 10 years, Valerie Rodriguez-Yu, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, has served in nursing positions at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). She is now Associate Director for Patient Care Services/Nurse Executive (ADPCS/NE) at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, after being in the deputy role for three years. Based in San Antonio, Rodriguez-Yu is a key member of the executive leadership team, serving as senior nurse adviser and consultant, responsible for areas such as Nursing, Social Work, Sterile Processing, Chaplain Services, Recreation Therapy and Nutrition/Food Services for the South Texas system.

In this installment of #ChooseVALeadership Careers and #FemaleLeaderFridays blog series and as VA prepares to attend the American Organization of Nurse Executives annual meeting in April (find us at booth 132), Rodriguez-Yu explains her role as nurse leader and why she chose a VA career.

What is your primary job at VA?

I serve on the executive leadership team and as a senior adviser and consultant for the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, which is an active ambulatory care program with multiple outpatient clinics. The system is comprised of the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital, Kerrville VA Medical Center and the Satellite Clinic Division. We are a 567-bed facility providing primary, secondary and tertiary health care in medicine, surgery, psychiatry and rehabilitation medicine. We have a Community Living Center, Spinal Cord Injury Center, Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, and a Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center.

How long have you been in this particular job?

I started my VA career in 2003 as a Registered Nurse at the VA San Diego Healthcare System. In 2005, I relocated to Alexandria, Virginia, where I managed a Brain Injury Unit. I returned to VA in 2008 to serve as the Outcomes Coordinator for the Spinal Cord injury Center in San Antonio. In 2010, I was elected Associate Chief Nurse for Polytrauma/Spinal Cord, where I was responsible for nursing services within the Polytrauma System of Care and Spinal Cord Injury Center. In 2015, as Deputy ADPCS/Nurse Executive, I oversaw more than 1,300 full-time bargaining unit employees, guiding the overall management of the profession and practice of nursing. In 2018, I was promoted to ADPCS/NE.

What was appealing about a career at VA?

As the spouse of a retired Marine, I was driven to the mission of caring for our nation’s heroes. Additionally, as a nursing student, I had several clinical rotations at VA. I was so impressed with the teamwork and mutual respect among all disciplines. When I graduated from nursing school, working for the VA was an obvious choice. I wanted to be part of the elite VA team!

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is hearing about the experiences of our Veterans and staff. The Veteran’s perspective reaffirms that VA is the best place for our Veterans to receive care. Also, when I observe how empowered and forward-thinking our frontline nurses are, it really makes me proud to work at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.

How has VA helped you grow in your career?

VA has been instrumental in my career development. From mentorship programs to executive leadership development programs, VA has been influential in my professional success. I am supported through conference attendance, detail opportunities, Pathway to Excellence Program participation and succession planning. There are several dedicated programs that have facilitated my professional advancement. VA invests in its employees and encourages nurses to build a lifetime of experiences so that we can provide the best care to our Veterans. (Learn more about leadership opportunities for VA nurses in the Office of Nursing Services.)

What are a few key benefits of working at VA?

Some key benefits include an impressive amount of paid time off, the Federal Employees Retirement System, Thrift Savings Plan and, one of my personal favorites, the benefit of making a difference in the lives of our Veterans.

What do you find most surprising about working at VA?

The most surprising thing for me was how well-respected nursing is among our physician peers. I have worked in organizations outside of VA, where the dynamics were very different and where nurses did not necessarily have a voice. VA is very collaborative!

What story do you most often tell people about your work?

I most often tell people that I love working for VA because when a Veteran needs something, VA does everything in its power to make it happen. When the Veteran is at the center of all that we do, you can never go wrong.

What would you tell other nurse leaders interested in choosing a career at VA?

Drown out the “noise” and hearsay about VA. Come work with us, and I promise you will find that we are innovative, that we embrace evidence-based practice and that we provide outstanding care. All those things make VA a great place to work.

What else would you like us to know about your work?

My career at VA is fulfilling, and I have felt supported in every role. I am respected and valued as a member of the executive team. VA values align with my own, and it is rewarding to be among the best places to work, where everyone is willing to give a little extra to get the job done.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

Five Helpful Tips to Get You Started in a Nursing Career with VA

Five Helpful Tips to Get You Started in a Nursing Career with VA

Nurses at VA are the cornerstone of our organization. They go above and beyond to support our Veterans physically and emotionally during their care with us. If you are a registered nurse hoping to start your VHA career, here are five tips to help you succeed.

Demonstrate leadership: Nurses are expected to take initiative in providing and directing comprehensive health strategies for our patients through collaboration with interdisciplinary teams. This can range from providing guidance to the patient and their family to executing care plans.

Advocate for patients: It’s important that patients feel cared for and taken care of. Form patient relationships that foster trust and compassion. Identify helpful resources, follow up on questions and direct concerns when needed.

Exhibit critical-thinking skills: Creating patient management plans takes careful and objective thought. The nursing field requires sound judgment and medical knowledge in the delivery of quality clinical care.

Practice patience: Nursing is stressful, and it is easy to feel rushed. However, whether it’s making the rounds with patients or delivering medications, taking your time ensures safety and makes the patient feel like their time is valued.

Experience: Experience can be acquired at many levels, including professional, collegiate and volunteering. Applying learned lessons to real-life situations is one of the best ways to understand nursing and flourish.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

Inspire: ICU Nurse Makes a Last Wish Come True

Inspire: ICU Nurse Makes a Last Wish Come True

Every day in VA hospitals nationwide, nurses dedicate themselves to help patients reclaim their lives. What they do is more than a career, it’s a calling to restore hope and bring healing to Veterans and their families. Nurses’ strength, skill and compassion lie at the core of VA’s high-quality standard of care. For Nurses Week 2018, we shared VA nursing stories that embody inspiration, innovation and influence. 

“To care for him who shall have born the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.

Because of numerous national complaints against VA over the past three years, it is sometimes difficult for the local community to understand that caregivers at VA medical centers uphold the mission and core values of the agency with the highest regard. Understanding this privilege of caring for America’s Veterans also involves knowing that there is never one standard formula to care for every patient. Instead, each care plan is customized for the Veteran and is as unique as the Veteran.

One weekend, I took care of a gentleman that had severe and end-stage pulmonary fibrosis. He had this disease for many years living at home somewhat independently, with the help of his long-time girlfriend. His disease was very advanced, sometimes being so short of breath that he needed two oxygen devices to recover from movement.

He was admitted for a community-acquired pneumonia. He insisted that he would return home and did not want to die in the ICU because he hadn’t yet married his love and he was worried that his benefits would not be provided to her if they were not married. He was in denial of his impending death during his present admission.

I spoke to the ICU Intensivist (M.D.) on duty and explained that the patient had been continuing to decline with his level of shortness of breath. The doctor and I spoke in depth with the Veteran about the disease process and current decline. He was tearful and stated that he wanted to at least be discharged to be able marry his girlfriend. I told him gently but firmly that I did not think he could make the journey back to his home town. I then shared with him, “people get married in the ICU all the time”. He was grateful and relieved and they were married the next day. The Medical Center staff joined forces and provided the Officiate, decorations, and food. The family was supported by the nursing staff and comforted when the Veteran passed away the following day. I am grateful in my heart that I was able to give him resolve and grant him his last wish.

This heartfelt story demonstrates the Department of Veterans Affairs ICARE values through the dedication and determination of the I.C.U. nurse caring for a Veteran at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center. By providing the highest quality of care needed, the nurse was able to honor the Veteran by facilitating his personal request. Her belief in the VAs mission and core values enabled her, as she worked through the emotional situation to make a difference in the life of this Veteran and family.

Story submitted by: Sandra L. Sullivan, MSN, RN,LNHA, NEA-BC

Note: The Martinsburg VAMC was the first VA Medical Center and the first hospital in the State of West Virginia to be awarded the ANCC Pathway to Excellence (PTE) designation. Martinsburg VA Medical Center has recently passed the document phase and currently in the nurse survey phase to obtain our 3rd and continues Pathway to Excellence designation. Under the PTE Practice Standard “Quality” and Evidence of Performance (EOP).

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point. 

Q&A with VA Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Lisa Wratchford

Q&A with VA Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Lisa Wratchford

Wondering what it’s like to be a VA employee? To give you some insight, we recently interviewed Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Lisa Wratchford of the Abilene Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Texas. As a Navy Veteran, she has a unique perspective on serving patients who’ve served America, and she’ll help you decide if a career with VA is right for you.

Why should job-seekers consider joining VA?

Our organization is moving toward less restrictive policies, which will give us full practice authority and more independence. There are also outstanding benefits, including generous paid time off, flexible scheduling and other perks that help us keep a healthy work-life balance. Above all, we get to give back to Veterans by providing treatment that improves their lives.

How does VA’s integrated model of care impact your typical day?

It makes things more efficient and productive. When I need to consult with someone, all I have to do is walk down the hall. I truly appreciate that I can work closely with other disciplines to meet the various needs of my patients.

What are some challenges that come with your position?

Taking the mystery and stigma out of mental health conditions. There’s a growing opportunity to educate others on the topic, so that’s something I’m always doing. My hope is to increase understanding of and empathy for people dealing with these issues. It’s a crucial part of being a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at VA.

If you’re interested in healing Veterans with our extraordinary team, explore our current opportunities and pursue one today.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

How a Nursing Career with VA Changed a Former Combat Medic’s Life

How a Nursing Career with VA Changed a Former Combat Medic’s Life

Jeffrey Ballard, R.N. and Army Veteran, began his medical career as an emergency medical technician (EMT). After gaining experience as a paramedic and a licensed practical nurse (LPN), he became a registered nurse in the Emergency Department at a Level 1 Trauma Center. He was deployed to Afghanistan two years later as an infantry medic, where he sustained injuries in combat. Following a year and a half of surgeries and physical therapy back home, Ballard returned to emergency nursing, but his struggle with PTSD prompted his departure within a year.

Ballard received care at the Manchester VA Medical Center, and he decided to continue his nursing career there. “I wanted other Veterans to have the same comfort I experienced,” he said.

Today, Ballard has been working with the VA for nearly five years and serves in a program that helps elderly Veterans maintain their independence. Working alongside compassionate nurses and caring for combat Veterans like himself has helped Ballard rediscover his passion and flourish in his career. With his experience, he’s been able to better understand and build trust with Veterans in a way that generates comfort and healing for both parties. Recently, Ballard won the title “Red Sox Nurse Hero of 2018” and was invited to throw a game-opening pitch at the historic Fenway Park.

VA offers Veterans not only life-changing care but also life-changing careers. Join our team and discover the unique rewards that come from serving our nation’s heroes. To get started, search for opportunities near you and apply today.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point. 

Essential Training Helps VA Nurse Save a Life

Essential Training Helps VA Nurse Save a Life

VA Palo Alto nurse Karen Wall saved a woman’s life on a cross-country flight, applying the CPR techniques she learned and taught in a Basic Life Support class at her health care system.

Here is her account of the experience:

If you have ever wondered if it is a good idea to learn CPR, here is proof that it works. On August 11, 2017, I was returning home from a conference I had attended in Washington, D.C. During the Southwest flight from Baltimore to Las Vegas, I became involved in a medical emergency on board.

Whenever I travel, I always let the crew know I am a nurse in case anything happens where they need medical assistance. On this particular day, I was sitting in my seat relaxing with my shoes kicked off and talking with my seatmate, when I heard a commotion a couple rows behind me.

I heard the flight attendant say “Nurse!” I turned around, and she saw me and remembered who I was from boarding. She called me over and there was a lady in the window seat of the aisle passed out.

After grabbing my pocket mask from my carry-on (yes, I always have it with me), I went to her seat after the other people in the row cleared out. When I got to her, I tried to arouse her and get her to respond, but she was gray and cold, had vomited, was not breathing, and had no pulse when I checked her carotid artery.

I called a “code blue” and called for someone to get an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) while the flight attendant alerted the pilot so he could call for help on the ground. My seatmate, also a Veteran, jumped into the row as we worked to get the lady lying down in the row across the seats, as we had no other place that was flat enough to lay her out to begin CPR.

As we were doing this, suddenly two more registered nurses and a doctor came from their seats to help. One of the nurses (who also happened to be a VA nurse) began chest compressions (counting out loud) as I gave breaths—it was two-person CPR in action and by the book.

Once the AED arrived and was turned on, I applied the pads as directed by the AED and then plugged it in. The AED analyzed her and gave the shock just like I had recently learned in a Basic Life Support (BLS) class at work. We continued CPR and eventually got a pulse. She was breathing again! We monitored her vital signs, placed her on oxygen, and turned her on her side so she would not aspirate if she vomited again.

The pilot diverted the flight to Denver where we were met by EMT, who then took over the case and got her off the plane to take her to a hospital.

We need to continually practice our skills.

When I think of the many things I learn in class and the skills I not only learn for myself but also teach others as a BLS instructor, this experience reminded me that there is a reason we teach BLS and teach it the way we do. There is a reason for why we need to continually practice our skills and not take for granted it will never happen to us.

We never know when we will be “the one” who makes a difference in a person living or dying. When I had time to think back on the events of this day, it was as if we had taken the book out and literally followed the steps that lead to a positive outcome for real.

Never have I ever felt so proud to be a VA nurse than at the moment that passenger opened her eyes, looked at me, and smiled!


About the author: Karen Wall, EdD, RN-BC, OFS, LMFT, is a Geriatric & Dementia Care Coordinator at the Palo Alto VA Health Care System

This story was originally shared on VAntage Point. 


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