New nurses can say good-bye to first-job jitters knowing they’ll have a year of dedicated time to train, learn and grow through VA’s nurse residency program.
Instead of typical on-the-job training, participants in the program have 100% protected training time for 12 months. Hundreds of nurses at more than 100 residency programs across the nation go through the program each year.
The only nursing traineeship model of its kind, our Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA) Nurse Residency Program is designed to help newly licensed registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) prepare to address the unique health care needs of Veterans.
“What benefited me the most from doing the OAA RN residency was the ability to ease myself into practice at a controlled pace while simultaneously learning additional skills,” said residency graduate Nathaniel Cline, BSN, RN, who is now a surgical intensive care unit nurse at Birmingham VA Medical Center.
Ease the Transition
The program is “a bridge from a solid academic foundation to clinical practice, and it allows new nurses to focus on identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and enhance their skills and knowledge,” said Director of Nursing Education Jemma Ayvazian, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP.
Graduates leave the program as competent, confident health care professionals with the “knowledge and skills to successfully practice in today’s complex, fast-paced health care environment,” Ayvazian said.
Though it’s not required, most decide to stay at VA when their residency is complete.
Now a medical/hematology/oncology nurse at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, Kelsey Greuel, BSN, RN, not only stayed on at VA, but quickly moved into leadership roles. She now serves as Nurse Executive Council RN co-chair.
“The OAA RN residency program provided me with the tools and experiences I needed to become a well-rounded nurse, find my passion in nursing and introduced me to lifelong friends,” she said.
Outside their residency, nurses will find a culture of support and camaraderie throughout VA. The residency program wasn’t in place when Ayvazian began her nursing career, but helpful mentors at VA were there to guide her.
“VA has the most diverse and dedicated team of health professionals, and I am honored and proud to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with them,” she said.
At VA, nurses are a key part of health care teams united by a common mission – serving the nation’s heroes.
“I never considered working anywhere else. Working at VA is more than just a place of employment for me; it has a deeper purpose and meaning,” said Ayvazian, who is married to a service-connected disabled Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran.
Work at VA
Ease your transition into your first job with VA’s nursing residency program.
Working as a long-term care nurse at VA, you’ll help provide a home away from home for Veterans needing around-the-clock skilled nursing care
VA’s community living centers are a home away from home for Veterans in need of around-the-clock skilled nursing and medical care.
At more than 100 centers across the nation, we help Veterans get back on their feet, care for those suffering from dementia and other cognitive issues, and provide palliative and end-of-life care.
Working as a long-term care nurse with this unique patient population is a career that comes with plentiful rewards.
“Long-term care nursing is a specialty. Being in this trusted position as a long-term care health care worker is to be at the forefront of health care delivery,” said Melissa Lasley, RN, nurse recruiter for the VA Maine Healthcare System.
Consider a VA career
Lasley doesn’t just have one reason to consider a career caring for Veterans at one of our community living centers – she has 12 of them.
It’s rewarding. “After finishing a day of work in dementia care, I leave my shift knowing I made a difference in the residents’ quality of life. At times, it feels rewarding in small ways, like de-escalating an anxious resident or engaging them in an intervention. Other times, it’s by being with the resident during their final hours and helping them to connect with family members. In all ways, big and small, we make a difference.”
It’s refreshing. “Residents have often given up caring about what people think and, therefore, say exactly what they mean.”
It’s entertaining. “They have amazing stories. Even Veterans with relatively advanced dementia can recall events from distant past, and it can be good for them to do so, so just ask.”
It’s important work. “As of 2017, the number of Veterans living with dementia was more than 750,000. An estimated 420,000 additional cases were diagnosed between 2010 and 2020. This is a critical mass of heroes, each of whom deserves quality care.”
It’s an honor. “When working with seniors, we often come across those who have lived through loss, immigrations, wars and much more. With all their life history, I always feel thankful and honored that I am entrusted to get to know them and provide the best possible care I can.”
It’s challenging. “Working with clients with dementia is something that not only requires experience and training but continued professional development over time. There is so much to learn about working with this population and room for continued improvement.”
It’s a specialty. “Nurses can develop a sense of pride in becoming an expert in geriatric care, just as they can with any other specialty. When an elderly patient experiences trauma, goes into anaphylactic shock or contracts a urinary tract infection, the clinical picture is far different from that of a 30-year-old. Having the knowledge to quickly assess and treat problems can drastically improve the quality of life for our Veterans.”
It’s a learning opportunity. “Veterans teach us from the moment we first meet. Often, it is just by being witness to their story. Other times, Veterans take on a teacher-like role, which may help them feel empowered, autonomous or a reconnection with their sense of self. From my work in dementia care, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t take life so seriously, laughter and humor are key, courage can always be found, and feeling connected is everything.”
It’s about the moment. “The reality of working with Veterans who have dementia is they may not recall working with you or having met you the week prior. This means our goals and objectives often need to pertain to a resident’s quality of life within the given moment rather than from week to week.”
It’s all about connection. “Building a trusting therapeutic relationship with resident Veterans is of key importance, and building a connection sometimes takes more than verbal interactions. A typical conversation is not always possible. Sometimes, connection is accomplished simply through a calming presence and a gentle approach.”
It’s someone’s parent. “Yes, this is sentimental, but the Veteran geriatric population have some miles on them. They may have fought in wars, raised families and experienced loss. Call it karma or responsibility, but when I care for geriatric Veterans, I hope when my family members grow old and sick, someone takes good care of them too.”
It’s thought-provoking. “Making connections with Veterans who have dementia is about much more than following rules and standards on building rapport; it’s about an intuitive feeling they perceive from your intentions when you approach. After caring for many within the geriatric population and likely attending their deaths, it’s difficult not to be drawn into wondering what amends, regrets and triumphs YOU will have at the end of your life.”
Cutting edge of care
If you need a 13th reason to pursue a career in long-term care nursing at VA, consider this: our community living centers are on the forefront of change.
VA Maine and many other centers are transitioning to a more patient-centered culture based on the needs and preferences of Veterans. At VA Maine, they will be breaking ground soon on a “small house,” similar to the Green House models adopted at some of our other community living centers.
These cozy buildings are designed to house small groups of Veterans and include community kitchens and dining rooms, private rooms and bathrooms, and ample outdoor living space.
“All are an important part of the holistic approach to caring for our Veterans, providing a home setting they are comfortable and proud to live in,” Lasley said.
Work at VA
Give back to a generation of Veterans who has provided so much for their country. Explore a long-term care nursing position with VA.
“Our nurses have made extraordinary personal and professional sacrifices while providing heroic service to Veterans over the past year, going above and beyond to care for those in need during a global pandemic,” said Darren Sherrard, associate director of VA recruitment marketing.
By delivering the highest quality care to Veterans every day, they give us 112,400 plus reasons to celebrate this momentous occasion. Need another reason to celebrate? It could be you. Choose a nursing career at VA and make a lasting difference for Veterans today.
The heart and soul of VA
Nurses are at the center of VA care. We could not provide patient-centered, high-quality health care to millions of Veterans without the dedication and hard work of these invaluable medical professionals.
They work across disciplines and in all treatment settings, including hospitals, ambulatory and skilled nursing. They play a critical role on our Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs), helping coordinate the full spectrum of patient care. And they do it with compassion and capability that lifts the spirits of their patients.
We encourage nurses to advance in their careers and contribute to our culture of improvement and innovation. Nurses often rise to leadership positions, helping create new models of care, introducing new nursing roles and advancing existing ones. There are plentiful opportunities for nurses to collaborate with colleagues – sharing tools, evidence-based practices and the lessons they’ve learned.
“Each day I am honored to use the advanced expertise I have attained, as well as continuously seek new knowledge to fulfill our vision of advancing nursing and transforming health care,” said Heather Arredondo, DHA, RN, VHA-CM, program manager for professional standards boards in VA’s Office of Nursing Services.
As a VA nurse, you’ll discover more than a job – you’ll discover a mission of service. You’ll enjoy a fulfilling career with competitive pay, perks and rewards that only add to the satisfaction of giving back to those who have given so much to our country.
You’ll have unparalleled opportunities for professional growth and plentiful chances to positively impact health care. In addition to the chance to move into a leadership role, you can advance your education, mentor and be mentored, and conduct research.
Other benefits include robust health insurance (including vision and dental), life and long-term care insurance, student loan reimbursement, continuing education and generous retirement. We also offer flexible scheduling, a generous leave plan and paid family leave for new parents.
What’s more, with one active, unrestricted U.S. license, you can practice anywhere in the country and move VA locations without losing any benefits or accumulated leave.
Work at VA
Are you ready to help us heal and care for Veterans so they can thrive in life after military service? Apply for a job as a VA nurse.
For Debbie Sommer, being a VA nurse has paid off, both personally and professionally.
Throughout nursing school, Sommer always knew she wanted to work at VA. She happily realized that goal in 1999, when the Miami VA Healthcare System hired her as a registered nurse (RN) for its spinal cord injury (SCI) unit. With a National Nursing Education Initiative (NNEI) scholarship and mentor support from VA, Sommer, who graduated with an associate’s degree in nursing, set out to advance her education and career. Two NNEI scholarships later, she had earned a Master of Science in nursing and now works as chief nurse for operations at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.
At VA, we know that helping employees advance their education and careers not only benefits them personally and professionally but also enhances the exceptional care we provide the nation’s Veterans. That’s why we have education support programs like NNEI and encourage employees to take advantage of them. After a year as a VA employee, Sommer qualified for an NNEI scholarship, with which she earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN).
“As a single mother with a new nursing career, this NNEI scholarship alleviated the financial stress and afforded me the opportunity to advance my clinical knowledge and obtain a BSN,” said Sommer. “While attending school, VA assigned me a mentor, who coached me along the way.”
Through the NNEI scholarship program, RNs who work part-time or full-time at VA for at least one year can receive up to $41,572 tax free toward the cost of higher education, including tuition, registration fees and books. In return, scholarship recipients agree to work in a VA career for one to three years.
After serving as an SCI nurse, home-based primary care nurse and home telehealth nurse, Sommer accepted a position as a quality nurse management specialist. While in this role, she applied for and received a second NNEI scholarship, which she used to earn her master’s degree in nursing administration.
In addition to being continuously employed at VA for one year before applying, NNEI scholarship applicants must:
Be in a permanent position at the time they apply and during the time they participate in the program.
Following positions as a primary care case manager and nurse manager, Sommer accepted her current role as chief nurse. Having the flexibility to relocate increased her opportunities for career advancement, and she appreciates VA’s investment in her career.
“My NNEI scholarship showed VA believed in me by investing in my professional development,” she said. “My VA mentors provided insight and helped me grow professionally. I am grateful to VA and the NNEI scholarship program for helping me advance my career and providing me with the tools to deliver the best care to our Veterans.”
Work at VA
Financial support and professional guidance to advance your career helps you fulfill the noble mission of caring for our nation’s Veterans. Only VA can offer you that. Start planning your next career move today at vacareers.va.gov.
A Learjet 31 took off before daybreak from Helena Regional Airport in Montana, carrying six Veterans Affairs medical providers and 250 doses of historic cargo cradled in a plug-in cooler designed to minimize breakage.
The group’s destination was Havre, Montana, 30 miles from the Canadian border. About 500 military veterans live in and around this small town of roughly 9,800, and millions more reside in similarly rural, hard-to-reach areas across the United States.
About 2.7 million veterans who use the VA health system are classified as “rural” or “highly rural” patients, residing in communities or on land with fewer services and less access to health care than those in densely populated towns and cities. An additional 2 million veterans live in remote areas who do not receive their health care from VA, according to the department. To ensure these rural vets have access to the covid vaccines, the VA is relying on a mix of tools, like charter and commercial aircraft and partnerships with civilian health organizations.
The challenges of vaccinating veterans in rural areas — which the VA considers anything outside an urban population center — and “highly rural” areas — defined as having fewer than 10% of the workforce commuting to an urban hub and with a population no greater than 2,500 — extend beyond geography, as more than 55% of them are 65 or older and at risk for serious cases of covid and just 65% are reachable via the internet.
For the Havre event, VA clinic workers called each patient served by the Merril Lundman VA Outpatient Clinic in a vast region made up of small farming and ranching communities and two Native American reservations. And for those hesitant to get the vaccine, a nurse called them back to answer questions.
“At least 10 additional veterans elected to be vaccinated once we answered their questions,” said Judy Hayman, executive director of the Montana VA Health Care System, serving all 147,000 square miles of the state.
The Havre mission was a test flight for similar efforts in other rural locations. Thirteen days later, another aircraft took off for Kalispell, Montana, carrying vaccines for 400 veterans.
In Alaska, another rural state, Anchorage Veterans Affairs Medical Center administrators finalized plans for providers to hop a commercial Alaska Airlines flight on Thursday to Kodiak Island. There, VA workers expected to administer 100 to 150 doses at a vaccine clinic conducted in partnership with the Kodiak Area Native Association.
“Our goal is to vaccinate all veterans who have not been vaccinated in and around the Kodiak community,” said Tom Steinbrunner, acting director of the Alaska VA Healthcare System.
VA began its outreach to rural veterans for the vaccine program late last year, as the Food and Drug Administration approached the dates for issuing emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, according to Dr. Richard Stone, the Veterans Health Administration’s acting undersecretary. It made sense to look to aircraft to deliver vaccines. “It just seemed logical that we would reach into rural areas that, [like] up in Montana, we had a contract with, a company that had small propeller-driven aircraft and short runway capability,” said Stone, a retired Army Reserve major general.
Veterans have responded, Stone added, with more than 50% of veterans in rural areas making appointments.
As of Wednesday, the VA had tallied 220,992 confirmed cases of covid among veterans and VA employees and 10,065 known deaths, including 128 employees. VA had administered 1,344,210 doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, including 329,685 second vaccines, to veterans as of Wednesday. According to the VA, roughly 25% of those veterans live in rural areas, 2.81% live in highly rural areas and 1.13% live on remote islands.
For rural areas, the VA has primarily relied on the Moderna vaccine, which requires cold storage between minus 25 degrees Centigrade (minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit) and minus 15 degrees C (5 degrees F) but not the deep freeze needed to store the Pfizer vaccine (minus 70 degrees C, or minus 94 degrees F). That, according to the VA, makes it more “transportable to rural locations.”
The VA anticipates that the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, if it receives an emergency use authorization from the FDA, will make it even easier to reach remote veterans. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech both require two shots, spaced a few weeks apart. “One dose will make it easier for veterans in rural locations, who often have to travel long distances, to get their full vaccination coverage,” said VA spokesperson Gina Jackson. The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee is set to meet on Feb. 26 to review J&J’s application for authorization.
Meanwhile, in places like Alaska, where hundreds of veterans live off the grid, VA officials have had to be creative. Flying out to serve individual veterans would be too costly, so the Anchorage VA Medical Center has partnered with tribal health care organizations to ensure veterans have access to a vaccine. Under these agreements, all veterans, including non-Native veterans, can be seen at tribal facilities.
“That is our primary outreach in much of Alaska because the tribal health system is the only health system in these communities,” Steinbrunner said.
In some rural areas, however, the process has proved frustrating. Army veteran John Hoefen, 73, served in Vietnam and has a 100% disability rating from the VA for Parkinson’s disease related to Agent Orange exposure. He gets his medical care from a VA location in Canandaigua, New York, 20 miles from his home, but the facility hasn’t made clear what phase of the vaccine rollout it’s in, Hoefen said.
The hospital’s website simply says a staff member will contact veterans when they become eligible — a “don’t call us, we’ll call you,” situation, he said. “I know a lot of veterans like me, 100% disabled and no word,” Hoefen said. “I went there for audiology a few weeks ago and my tech hadn’t even gotten her vaccine yet.”
VA Canandaigua referred questions about the facility’s current phase back to its website: “If you’re eligible to get a vaccine, your VA health care team will contact you by phone, text message or Secure Message (through MyHealtheVet) to schedule an appointment,” it states. A call to the special covid-19 phone number established for the Canandaigua VA, which falls under the department’s Finger Lakes Healthcare System, puts the caller into the main menu for hospital services, with no information specifically on vaccine distribution.
For the most part, the VA is using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to determine priority groups for vaccines. Having vaccinated the bulk of its health care workers and first responders, as well as residents of VA nursing homes, it has been vaccinating those 75 and older, as well as those with chronic conditions that place them at risk for severe cases of covid. In some locations, like Anchorage and across Montana, clinics are vaccinating those 65 and older and walk-ins when extra doses are available.
According to Lori FitzGerald, chief of pharmacy at the VA hospital in Fort Harrison, Montana, providers have ended up with extra doses that went to hospitalized patients or veterans being seen at the facility. Only one dose has gone to waste in Montana, she said.
To determine eligibility for the vaccine, facilities are using the Veterans Health Administration Support Service Center databases and algorithms to help with the decision-making process. Facilities then notify veterans by mail, email or phone or through VA portals of their eligibility and when they can expect to get a shot, according to the department.
Air Force veteran Theresa Petersen, 83, was thrilled that she and her husband, an 89-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, were able to get vaccinated at the Kalispell event. She said they were notified by their primary care provider of the opportunity and jumped at the chance.
“I would do anything to give as many kudos as I can to the Veterans Affairs medical system,” Petersen said. “I’m so enamored with the concept that ‘Yes, there are people who live in rural America and they have health issues too.’”
The VA is allowed to provide vaccines only to veterans currently enrolled in VA health care. About 9 million U.S. veterans are not enrolled at the VA, including 2 million rural veterans.
After veterans were turned away from a VA clinic in West Palm Beach, Florida, in January, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) wrote to Acting VA Secretary Dat Tran, urging him to include these veterans in their covid vaccination program.
Stone said the agency does not have the authorization to provide services to these veterans. “We have been talking to Capitol Hill about how to reconcile that,” he said. “Some of these are very elderly veterans and we don’t want to turn anybody away.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
Looking to meet with a VA recruiter? Forget the crowded conferences – VA is making it easier to connect with one by taking the traditional job fair online with a virtual open house.
Starting this month, we’re launching a new series of virtual open houses aimed at connecting doctors, nurses, and job seekers in other critically needed occupations with a VA recruiter. (And in May, there will be a special open house just for nurses!). The series will be hosted every fourth Wednesday of the month from 2-3 p.m. ET.
In addition to doctors and nurses, each month will offer a specialty booth focused on a specific field:
March: Physicians, social work.
April: Medical support assistants, medical technologists.
May: Nurses, practical nurses.
June: Medical records technicians.
September: Medical instrument technicians.
These occupations are being highlighted as part of VHA’s 75th anniversary celebration, recognizing decades of providing high quality health care to millions of the nation’s Veterans.
What to expect
Like a traditional job fair, these virtual open houses bring together employers and job seekers for a set period of time on a particular date. But instead of face-to-face meetings, you’ll connect via chat.
You’ll be able to upload your resume when you register and then participate in a brief, web-based chat with a recruiter, who will answer basic questions about working at VA and how to apply for open positions.
“This is a great chance for interested candidates to chat with recruiters who understand the process behind getting hired at VA,” said Mike Owens, recruitment marketing program specialist at VA.
To make the most of your time with a recruiter, make sure you prepare your questions ahead of time.
You should use a smartphone, tablet or computer with a reliable internet or wireless connection to connect. Our virtual career fairs are compatible with all internet browsers but work best with Chrome.
If you’re considering a career caring for America’s heroes, now is a great time to get connected with one of our hiring experts.