By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
November 12, 2012 - Health care continues to add jobs, so this growing market sector presents opportunities for returning military veterans to find a rewarding civilian career. And veterans bring discipline, a sense of teamwork and other valuable skills to the job.
Col. Kelly Wolgast, MSN, MSS, RN, FACHE, indicated there are many resources available to military veterans to assist in successfully transitioning to the civilian world.
“The health care field, and in particular nursing, is a welcoming career path for veterans who are transitioning from the military,” said retired Col. Kelly Wolgast, MSN, MSS, RN, FACHE, assistant professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in Nashville, Tenn.
Patricia A. Peerman, RN, MS, assistant dean for enrollment management at Vanderbilt’s nursing program, added, “People from the military are coming from a profession where they made a commitment of service, and the transition to nursing is a natural one.”
However, that transition is not always easy. Among post-9/11 veterans, the unemployment rate stands at 10 percent, more than 2 percent higher than the rest of the country, as of November 2, 2012.
“There are different reasons, and some of it goes back to the military being their first and only job,” suggested Brian Wilson, veterans recruiter for The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, which has added 50 veterans in research, administrative, financial, security and other positions this year as part of the Texas Medical Center’s Hiring Red, White and You! initiative to hire veterans.
Some veterans may try to find a similar civilian job with the same salary, he said. And some employers fear hiring a veteran and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s a learning process for both sides,” said Wilson, who served as a combat medic in Iraq. “The company has to learn what they did in the military and to take away that stigma, and on the veteran side, they have to learn how to best market themselves.” For instance, veterans may need to learn to write a better résumé or return to college for a degree.
“When both sides work together, that’s when the unemployment rate in the veterans’ community will drop,” Wilson said.
The Veterans Administration holds veterans-only job fairs, said Bonnie Richter, RN, MSHA, Joining Forces coordinator for the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing. She educates nurses practicing in ambulatory settings about opportunities and resources for veterans.
Military veterans bring desirable talents and experience to the workplace.
“[Veterans] have a lot of basic skills and teamwork qualities any employer would want,” Wilson said.
Texas Medical Center has found that to be the case. Since February, member organizations have hired 600 veterans through the Hiring Red, White & You! campaign, and it expects to meet its goal of hiring 1,000 new veterans by year-end. The new veterans work in a variety of settings, such as food service, accounting, customer service and security, as well as health-care delivery positions.
Pat Mitchell reported veterans hired through Texas Medical Center’s Hiring Red, White & You! campaign are dependable and mission-driven.
“The veterans are so dependable,” said Patricia Mitchell, senior vice president of human resources at Texas Medical Center. “They also have found our veterans are mission-driven. It’s easy to communicate the goal. They get on board and are team oriented and can deal with uncertainty. They have been great contributors.”
A retired Iraq war veteran and trauma surgeon at Memorial Hermann-TMC came up with the idea of a veterans’ hiring initiative and continues to serve on the implementation task force. The campaign includes working with the Houston Community College-Coleman College for Health Sciences to establish a veterans’ track. In addition, Texas Medical Center has set up a separate online job portal for veterans, which helps translate their military experience into civilian terms and eases matching of applicants to openings.
“We feel it’s the right thing to do and will continue to put all of our energy into it,” Mitchell said.
Many folks affiliated with the military have a medical background.
Susan Dewan, executive director of the Center for Military Education at Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y., said that “someone serving in the military as a registered nurse or practical nurse is likely already to be licensed and should be able to transition easily from [his or her] role in the military to a parallel civilian role.”
Enlisted personnel, such as a hospital corpsman in the Navy, could put his or her military training to use in positions such as medical assistants, a civilian occupation that the Department of Labor sees as experiencing rapid growth, she added. And someone serving as a Navy independent duty corpsman or an independent duty medical technician in the Air Force also could use his or her training to help qualify as civilian emergency medical technicians and paramedics, but they may need additional education and certification/licensing exams.
Many of the first physician assistants (PA) in the United States were Navy corpsmen, said Adrian Banning, MMS, PA-C, a clinical instructor at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
“The Navy corpsmen had accumulated great military experience that translated coming home and gaining some training to become licensed health care providers,” Banning said. “There are still lots of veterans coming into PA programs.”
Drexel’s PA program offers a part-time option and some flexibility in its admission process. First-year students are paired with a second-year student to ease the transition. It has a student veterans group, an office of veteran services and a lounge for veteran students. Three of Drexel’s PA faculty members serve on the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA’s) Helping Veterans Become Physician Assistants task force. The American Academy of Physician Assistants’ Veterans Caucus offers scholarships to veterans returning and desiring to become PAs.
Excelsior College offers online nursing and health sciences courses. Approximately one third of its enrolled students are active duty military, reservists or veterans. It offers reduced tuition and fees for veterans. For veterans returning with nursing experience, Excelsior offers the opportunity to take exams that will allow them to earn credit toward a college degree.
“One factor often linked with veteran unemployment is a lack of a higher education credential,” Dewan said. “We see it as an obligation on our part to help veterans earn the academic credential they need to succeed.”
Vanderbilt University welcomes veterans and has been intentional in strengthening its connections with the military, Peerman said. The school has many portals of entry and works with candidates individually.
Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine and Health Sciences in Santa Fe, N.M., educates veterans in the art of manual medicine and has developed a strategy called “Vets Healing Vets,” which is approved by the State of New Mexico to offer veterans’ education benefits. Patrick Nuzzo, DN, said the program aims to prepare graduates to treat fellow veterans struggling with musculoskeletal pain as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., offers a Veterans Caring for Veterans nursing assistant training program.
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