Celebrating the Contributions of VA Nurses: Delivering the Quality Care That Leads to Better Health Outcomes Among Veterans

Celebrating the Contributions of VA Nurses: Delivering the Quality Care That Leads to Better Health Outcomes Among Veterans

In honor of Nurses Week 2019, Acting Chief Nursing Officer Beth Taylor celebrates nurses and nursing careers at VA

As Acting Chief Nursing Officer for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Beth Taylor, DHA RN, NEA-BC, provides executive leadership and strategic direction for the Office of Nursing Services. She also advises the Under Secretary for Health on nursing issues that impact the 100,000 VA nursing personnel nationwide who care for Veterans. Taylor has served the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) since 1996, when she joined the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan, as Associate Director for Patient Care Services/Nurse Executive. Taylor assumed her current position, which is based at VA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, on April 2, 2018.

In honor of national #NursesWeek 2019, Taylor describes her role in nursing at VA, explains the benefits of VA nursing careers and why VA celebrates nurses.

How long have you served at VA and in what roles?

I joined VA as a Nurse Executive in 1996 and served in a VA hospital in Michigan. I worked in two VA facilities within the state of Michigan, in Saginaw and Detroit. I’ve had the opportunity over the years to serve as a Nurse Executive in a variety of different stations, including in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Tucson, Arizona; and twice in Washington, D.C., for the Office of Nursing Services. This is my second time working for the Office of Nursing Services. One consistent aspect of our work — regardless of where we serve as nurses or nurse executives — is ensuring that we provide the highest quality of care to our Veterans, and we pay attention to the Veteran experience.

Why did you choose a career at VA?

I worked in the private sector for many years. I decided to pursue a career in VA for two reasons. One, I’m proud to say I come from a very long line of Veterans in my family and was the first generation not to serve in the military. And so, I looked at this as an opportunity to provide my service to our nation. The other reason is that I was recruited by another chief nursing officer at VA who was retiring. She talked to me about the great opportunities here and the wonderful mission of VA. She was right, and I stayed for the next 20-some years.

What are your reasons for celebrating the nurses you lead and serve with at VA?

VA nurses touch our Veterans’ lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re one of the professions that is present during administrative hours and throughout all the nonadministrative hours. When you think about it, that’s when the majority of healthcare for our inpatients and our long-term care residents is provided.

When you look at the quality outcomes for our health system, VA nurses make such a strong contribution to improving the health of our Veterans. They are by the bedside providing not only the clinical expertise and knowledge, but also that human compassion that ensures that our Veterans are not only receiving quality healthcare but they’re also comfortable, and they know there’s somebody there who cares for them and is watching over them. I think that’s what makes nurses so special and certainly our VA nurses exemplify that aspect of our profession.

What are the most rewarding parts of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is, of course, knowing that I’m serving our nation’s heroes. There’s no better mission than the one that we have and no better patient population than the one that we serve. It’s truly an honor every day.

We are the largest nursing corps in the United States — possibly the world. And so, the second joy is knowing that I am supporting the nearly 100,000-strong nursing corps that is VA. Through the examination of the policies and being the clinical and leadership voice on various committees, I want to make sure that nursing is represented and that we make it easier for nurses to do.

Coming to work every day, my goal is to make it easier for the nurses to do a great job in meeting the mission and taking care of the patients every day.

What are one or two areas you plan to focus on in leading VA’s nurses over the next year or two?

As within the larger healthcare industry, we have a growing percentage of the RN population that is over age 50 and a shrinking percentage that is under age 30, which is a real concern. We have a mission of ensuring the next generation of workforce through our training programs, and we focus on how we can bring new undergraduate and graduate nurses. We also want to transfer the great knowledge and experience of our senior nurses to our newer nurses.

Why should nurses starting out in their careers take a closer look at VA?

In my experience, VA is the richest employer in terms of the scholarship opportunities that we offer nurses — not only scholarships on the front end, which help pay their tuition through the program that they are interested in pursuing but also through the Education Debt Reduction Program that allows us to offset college debt. We have an opportunity to offset some debt for people who have completed their degrees already and are employed at VA in key positions.

What are some other ways that VA supports nurses and nursing careers?

One mechanism we use to promote nursing is the nursing residency program, which invites nurses in training to work at VA. Another way is by looking at our pay structure and ensuring that we’re competitive. We also look at scholarship opportunities and make sure that we have plenty of opportunities to grow nurses, whether folks come in as nursing assistants and advance to become Advanced Practice Nurses or RNs. We need to have those career paths in place so we can have a strong and well-prepared workforce for the future.

What are the career paths for nurses at VA?

There are so many different avenues in which you can take your nursing career at VA. You can pursue continuing education. You can pursue graduate education and become a provider. You can pursue becoming a nurse researcher — we have many nurses who work in research and contribute to knowledge, best practices and clinical leadership practices. So, there’s a variety of different avenues that you can take at VA. We have facilities in all 50 states so you can go anywhere as a VA nurse and continue serving the mission.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

Five Reasons Neuro Nurses Don’t Want to Leave VHA

Five Reasons Neuro Nurses Don’t Want to Leave VHA

Why VHA is the Right Choice for Neuro Nurses

Whether you are looking to break into the health care industry, expand your skills mid career or build on a lifetime of experience, it’s important to find an employer that will foster your growth and offer you a fulfilling experience. At Veterans Health Administration (VHA), we believe in investing in our employees’ professional and personal development by providing opportunities you won’t find with any other health care system.

If you’re a nurse who specializes in caring for patients suffering from neurological problems, check out these top five reasons why VHA would be the perfect fit for you:

  1. VHA is the largest health care system in the U.S., as well as the largest employer of nurses in the Nation, meaning the career opportunities at VA are endless. With five Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers, 19 Polytrauma Network Sites and a wide variety of nursing careers, finding work in your desired interdisciplinary team in an area near you is simple.
  2. Continuous learning is a key element in keeping our employees at the forefront of clinical practice. That’s why we offer VHA nurses a multitude of opportunities for learning and career advancement through programs such as RN Transition to Practice, TMS Genomics Education and VA Nursing Academic Partnerships.
  3. Every day, there is a steady stream of Veterans and military service members returning to our communities. As a neuro nurse at VHA, your contributions will be essential to improving the health of our Nation’s heroes and preparing them for a life in the civilian world.
  4. The variety and scope of work at VHA allows neuro nurses to work with cases and patients outside the typical assignments of the private sector. At VA, you’ll mainly serve Veterans with war-related illnesses and injuries, including spinal cord injuries and disorders, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and various psychiatric conditions such as substance abuse, dementia and personality disorders.
  5. At VHA, you won’t be just a nurse. You’ll invent a new model of health care. While working at one of the largest research organizations in the U.S. you’ll play an integral role in developing patient safety initiatives, conducting research to evaluate and improve care delivery and taking on leadership roles to help guide the next generation of nurses.

Are you ready to learn, grow and launch your career in an environment with a wealth of opportunity? Join VA.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

Ask a Nurse: What Are the Benefits of a Career with VA?

Ask a Nurse: What Are the Benefits of a Career with VA?

VA offers many rewarding opportunities to advanced practice nurses interested in caring for America’s Veterans. So, to help you understand why you should consider a future with us, we chatted with Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Edith Gabor, who started her nursing career at a VA Medical Center, and then went to the private sector before rejoining our organization a few years ago.

What made you decide to come back to VA?

In addition to outstanding benefits, VA gives me the chance to serve those who’ve served our country. I enjoy being at the center of their care, as part of an integrated multidisciplinary team that’s passionate about helping others.

What are some other advantages to working here?

VA’s advanced practice nurses have ample time with patients and a great deal of autonomy, which allows a holistic approach to treatment. We also receive a wealth of education support that helps us continuously grow as professionals.

What makes now an exciting time to carry out VA’s mission?

We’re doing more initiatives for hypertension and diabetes, and the introduction of onsite pharmacists will help us more easily manage the care of some of our patients.

What kind of experience do nurse practitioners need to succeed here?

You should have at least two years of nursing experience. This must include experience treating patients with special needs, because we serve a unique patient population. In addition, candidates must have a Master’s degree in Nursing (from a NLNAC or CCNE accredited program), must be licensed as a nurse practitioner in a U.S. State, and be a certified nurse practitioner from the American Nurses Association or other recognized body. VA has opportunities for nurse practitioners in several U.S. States across the country.

If you’re ready to become part of our promising future, explore our open positions and apply for one today.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

Be a Voice for Excellence in Veterans’ Nursing Care: Become a VA Nurse Executive

Be a Voice for Excellence in Veterans’ Nursing Care: Become a VA Nurse Executive

Nursing services are critically important at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as they are at any healthcare organization. But thanks to VA’s Nurse Executives and a commitment to collaboration, nurses are always at the table when decisions are made about Veterans’ healthcare.

“At every VA that I’m aware of, the Nurse Executive is on the senior leadership team,” said Timothy Cooke, Medical Center Director at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia and who colleagues roundly praise as a strong supporter of VA nursing. “Our common bond is that we put Veterans at the center, and everyone who supports that are equal in their service to them.”

For Cooke, that equality extends to anyone knocking on his door to discuss a clinical practice challenge, innovation or another matter.

“We can walk into anyone else’s office and discuss a situation freely and without prejudice,” he said of his staff. “It’s not ‘my’ problem or ‘your’ problem. If we have a situation, it’s our problem or our issue to resolve together.”

Collaborating nationally to improve care locally

VA Nurse Executives, stationed around the country, are highly respected and skilled, and together lead VA’s nearly 100,000-strong nursing service. Whether they’re serving as Chief Nurse, Director of Nursing Services or Associate Director of Patient Care Services, each nurse leader is working toward improved nursing care for the nation’s Veterans.

“Nurse Executives advocate for and promote evidence-based clinical practices that enable all nursing staff to function at the top of their license in the provision of care to Veterans,” said Kathleen Barry, National Program Director for Workforce and Leadership at VA’s Office of Nursing Services.

Despite being located in nearly every state and the territories, VA encourages Nurse Executives to learn from each other through national email groups, comprehensive national and local nursing websites, and internal networking and discussion boards.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of being a VA Nurse Executive is having 141 fellow Nurse Executives as colleagues who serve as subject matter experts in every domain of professional practice and leadership,” Barry said. “The ability to reach out and easily collaborate is wonderful!”

VA’s Nurse Executives consult on the Nursing Executive Leadership Board and Field Advisory Committee, where they share information and contribute to decision making. VA Nurse Executives also have access to peers nationwide to ask consultation and practice questions, develop research and contribute to quality improvement.

“VA Nurse Executives participate on nurse-specific committees as well as interprofessional programs and task forces at the local and national level to develop innovative and progressive approaches that influence the practice and delivery of care, not just within VA, but potentially on a national level,” Barry said.

Shaping the quality of care

Nurse leadership is also nurtured among VA’s front-line nurses. Nursing personnel are encouraged to share their ideas and concerns, serve on national and local decision-making committees and become educated and trained nurse leaders in their own right.

Overall, this cooperative environment positively impacts the quality of healthcare and reliability of service at VA.

“Shared decision making, evidence-based practice, and the pursuit of advanced education and certification have a positive impact on nurse satisfaction, clinical outcomes for Veterans and Veteran satisfaction,” Barry said.

VA’s system also fosters the leadership skills and sense of duty prevalent among VA’s nursing and other healthcare professionals — thousands of whom are Veterans, in the reserves or come from families who served and all of whom view working at VA as a career with a mission to give back.

Choose VA today

Nurse Executives who work in the private sector are taking notice of the opportunities to lead at VA and the benefits of VA careers, Cooke said.

“We are finding that more and more of our team are coming from outside organizations to the VA because, for one, we offer superb benefits for nurses,” Cooke said. “But also, because the mission is so clear, and they get to care for family, those that represent their family and those that served.”

See if the choice of a career as a VA Nurse Executive/Associate Director is right for you.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

South Texas VA Designated as a Pathway to Excellence by the American Nurses Credentialing Center

South Texas VA Designated as a Pathway to Excellence by the American Nurses Credentialing Center

The Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Affairs Hospital in San Antonio, Texas has achieved designation as a Pathway to Excellence® organization by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). It is the first VA in Texas to be designated as a Pathway to Excellence® organization and the fifth VA in the nation.

The Pathway to Excellence international designation is awarded based on characteristics known as “The Pathway to Excellence Criteria.” For an organization to earn this distinction, it must successfully undergo a thorough review documenting foundational quality initiatives in creating a positive work environment — as defined by nurses and supported by research. These initiatives must be present in the facility’s practices, policies, and culture. Nurses in the organization verify the presence of the criteria through participation in a confidential online survey. Receiving this designation validates the professional satisfaction of nurses at ALMMVH and identifies the facility as one of the best places to work. ALMMVH exceeded scores in 27 out of 28 categories in the Pathway to Excellence Nurse Survey.

“This designation represents the dedication and commitment to nursing excellence,” said Valerie Rodriguez- Yu, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, associate director for Patient Care Services. “Audie L. Murphy staff wanted this prestigious recognition and worked arduously to achieve success as a team. I am extremely proud of each and every one and I congratulate them on achieving The Pathway to Excellence for the first time. We could not have achieved this award without the overall dedication and commitment to excellence for our Veterans, their families and the community.”

“VA is driven by its commitment to nursing excellence and to a positive work environment which translates to good patient outcomes for Veterans,” said Christopher Sandles, director, South Texas Veterans Health Care System.  “This success story confirms to our Nation’s heroes that San Antonio VA nurses know their efforts are supported by executive leadership locally and nationwide.”

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

VA Nurse Executive and Veteran Encourages VA Nurses to Pursue All Opportunities to Serve Veterans

VA Nurse Executive and Veteran Encourages VA Nurses to Pursue All Opportunities to Serve Veterans

VA Nurse Executive David E. Murray is a nurse leader at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin

For more than 28 years, David E. Murray, MSN, RN, APN, NE-BC, has worked at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), most recently as Associate Director Patient Care Services/Nurse Executive at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, a position he’s held for three years. Murray, a retired lieutenant colonel, is a combat Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Murray provides nurse leadership in collaboration with other disciplines to improve Veterans’ care at the Wisconsin hospital. In this installment of our #ChooseVALeadership Careers and as VA prepares to attend the American Organization of Nurse Executives annual meeting in April (find us at booth 132), Murray explains his role as nurse leader and why he chose a VA career.

What is your primary job at VA?

I provide executive leadership and complex managerial and administrative tasks that impact critical healthcare issues and the activities that influence the organizational mission, healthcare and policy. My leadership has helped develop a professional practice environment that fosters excellence in nursing services, evidence-based practice, staff recruitment and retention, nursing research and scholarly inquiry, and customer satisfaction.

Describe your specialties and how you apply these skills in the care you provide to Veterans.

As a Nurse Executive, I help guide policy, mentor my Service Chiefs and Managers, and work with the executive team to make the Madison VA the best place to work and the best place for Veterans to receive care.

What was appealing about a career at VA?

I was already serving in the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a medic and a career as a nurse caring for Veterans seemed like a logical fit. Before I finished nursing school, I had a final clinical at the Madison VA and was hired before I had graduated.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

That becomes a twofold answer. I am honored to lead a Nursing Service that provides exemplary care to our Veterans, which is clear from the positive comments we receive in the Director’s office and from the Veterans we meet when we do unit rounding. The other rewarding part is watching our nursing staff grow from novice to expert and embrace shared decision making as they become part of our facility-based nursing practice council.

How has VA helped you grow in your career?

I’ve received numerous opportunities to grow throughout my career with VA, including preceptor (instructor) opportunities as a new graduate, leadership courses at the local level and Veterans Integrated Service Network-wide leadership training. As I delved into my new role as Nurse Executive, the VA Office of Nursing Services paired me with a mentor from a similarly sized facility and established monthly mentoring calls. Within the first year, I received the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) New Executive Training (NExT) orientation with peers from across VA. VA’s annual Nurse Executive Conference is partnered with the annual Chief of Staff Conference, where we receive timely information from subject matter experts from VHA and VA Central Office. (Learn more about leadership opportunities for VA nurses in the brochure PDF.)

What are a few key benefits of working at VA?

Working for VA provides a plethora of benefits that only increase in value as the years go by. Nursing receives up to five weeks of annual leave starting on day one, along with 13 sick days and 10 federal holidays. You can also participate in the Thrift Savings Plan — the government’s 401(k) — where VA will match up to the first 5 percent of contributions. This is paired with a pension plan that, once vested in five years, will help you plan for retirement. VA nursing careers also have unique ladders for promotions and salary increases not often seen in other healthcare organizations.

What do you find most surprising about working at VA?

In my current role I often spend some upfront time with the new nursing hires. Although many admit they worried about coming to work for VA, once they started orientation, spent time with the Veterans and truly understood our mission, they fell in love with their new role.

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

Since 2004, we have been a Magnet facility, which is an American Nurses Credentialing Center designation indicating that our facility is committed to excellence in healthcare and support for our nurses. Even as we work on our second redesignation, our work is never done, and we do not claim to be a perfect facility. We always seek ways to support VA nurses as they lead evidence-based practice projects and make improvements that lead to great Veteran and staff experiences.

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

The mission of VA is noble and, once you start working with Veterans, this is a career that becomes endearing. Veterans are so thankful for the care they receive, and they partner with you to improve their overall healthcare experience.

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

The opportunities are endless for nurses coming to VA — I have had six distinctly different roles throughout my career at the Madison VA, each with its own unique challenges and rewards. I tell staff to always be prepared for whatever the next opportunity may be. Even if they are not thinking of changing roles, I still encourage VA nurses to take the courses, get the next level of education and be prepared for opportunities as they arise.

This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.

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