With all that nurses do for our patients, it is only fitting that we do just as much for them, supporting nurses as they grow in their VA career.
Whether at the bedside of a Veteran or working in an outpatient clinic, our nurses deliver quality care and lead the way in innovating how we provide nursing care. Nurses also develop patient safety initiatives, conduct research to improve care delivery, and help guide the next generation of nurses.
VA and schools of nursing around the country offer academic affiliations. These collaborative efforts between VA facilities and the country’s finest nursing schools provide students with clinical experiences that specifically address the unique needs of Veteran population and prepare them to excel in careers at VA.
These partnerships offer nursing students a comprehensive and intensive four-year clinical training. The programs create a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship between nursing schools and VA facilities by giving students the opportunity to engage with faculty and ultimately provide better patient care as they put classroom concepts into practice.
By the end of the program, graduates are fully accustomed to the culture and mission at VA and ready to care for our Veterans.
Transition to practice
For over a decade, VA has promoted Registered Nurse Transition-to-Practice (RNTTP) residency programs to provide a transition from school to the more complex clinical environment for RNs with less than one year of experience.
The comprehensive 12-month curriculum explores the clinical, leadership and professional dimensions of nursing at VA. Post-graduate RNs perform the typical roles, duties, patient care activities and procedures that are carried out by nurses on our team.
Availability varies by location, so contact the nurse educator or nurse recruiter at a facility near you for more information.
VA offers eligible employees and students nursing scholarships to advance their education and skills training through the following programs:
The VA National Education for Employees Program (VANEEP) is offered to employees in a clinical program pursuing first-time licensure in a clinical occupation. Participants can earn their degree faster by attending school full time, with VA covering not only some education costs but also replacement salary while they are enrolled.
The VA Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) program provides an opportunity for outstanding college nursing students to develop clinical competencies at an approved VA Medical Center. VALOR is designed to increase participants’ clinical skills, clinical judgement and critical thinking while caring for our nation’s Veterans. This program provides opportunities for learning with a qualified RN preceptor. Students must have completed their junior year in an accredited baccalaureate nursing program. VALOR students are offered up to 800 hours of salary dollars.
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.
During Oncology Nursing Month, oncology nurses and the specialty they work in are honored and highlighted. Oncology nurses work with patients who have dealt with a cancer diagnosis–whether years ago or more recent. No matter when a patient hears they have cancer, the words are startling and set in motion treatment and care plans, family discussions, and life adjustments, while also triggering some powerful emotional responses.
Typically, a nurse cares for the health of a patient with cancer, but also understands that the patient’s diagnosis touches many lives especially that of family and friends. Oncology nurses understand their very special role and help their patients process varied health issues, have hope for the future, and have compassion for the often grueling road of cancer treatment.
While many oncology nurses work in centers and offices devoted to cancer treatment and care, there are also other important and challenging roles they can explore on different career platforms.
An oncology nurse may work with cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy as they monitor and care for patients on treatment days. Nurses in this role will continually assess the patient’s response to the treatment, notice and track changes, answer questions and provide relevant information, and be a calm and strong presence for patients. Nurses may choose to treat different ages of patients–from the youngest infants with cancer to the very oldest patients. Oncology nurses have a special ability to be compassionate and empathetic as they are driven to understand the journey each patient faces and help make that journey easier by providing support. Oncology nurses may also find they are drawn to helping cancer patients with hospice care to make them as comfortable as they can.
A clinical research nurse works within a research team to advance cancer treatment, prevention, and eradication. Clinical research nurses may take a variety of roles, each of which may touch a different aspect of the research project. Nurses can act as educators, provide clinical care to research participants, and provide nursing leadership for the research facility, among other responsibilities. With so many cancer trials happening, nurses can make a direct and immediate impact in areas that are of particular interest to them or in which they have special expertise.
Oncology nurses who have worked in cancer care and treatment have much-needed expertise to share with nursing students, colleagues, the public, and government officials. Oncology nurses may teach at the undergraduate or graduate levels to inspire the next generation of nurses to work in the field, and they may chair panels and seminars at conferences. They may give talks for younger students in high school who may not know about what oncology nurses do but are interested in a nursing career and want to help people who have cancer. Oncology nurses may help lobby and inform the state and federal government to increase cancer research funding or to influence the direct impact the government can have on helping people and families affected by cancer.
Oncology nurses may advance their careers and nursing specialty by joining professional organizations like the Oncology Nursing Society. They can network with other oncology nurses to exchange information about the latest developments in cancer care, to compare nursing processes, to take advantage of targeted professional development for oncology nurses, and to act as part of a larger body of advocates for the field and the patients they care for. Nurses who join professional organizations can take on leadership roles to guide projects and advocacy and reevaluate standards in the public and private sector.
Nurses who find a good fit in this field are generally fascinated by brain science and all the different implications that brain health and brain injury have on a person’s daily life. Neuroscience nurses help patients who may have a brain disease, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, or who may have brain injuries resulting from a car accident or a fall or from an aneurism or infection. Neuroscience nurses also work with patients who have had a stroke or have multiple sclerosis.
Neuroscience nurses work with patients to help them stabilize if they have had a brain injury and to manage the everyday impacts of brain injury and disease. They may work in recovery and rehabilitation to monitor progression and to encourage patients and families as they take the journey to recovery or, in some cases, to manage a progressive disease. They may also work in an inpatient or outpatient facility or in the OR. Frequently, nurses in this role develop long relationships with patients and their families. As people recover from or progress through the impacts and symptoms of brain injury or brain disease, these nurses are a sounding board, a resource, and a champion of their patients.
Because the human brain is incredibly complex and any brain injury can have a major impact on the way the body functions, a career in neuroscience nursing is challenging. Nurses in this specialty must remain current in all the latest research in brain science and in the rapidly advancing technology that helps patients with brain injury or diseases. While patient care is generally the primary focus in the career, nurses who are fascinated by brain science can also choose to lead research, may hold leadership and teaching roles in academia, and may advocate for the patients and nurses who are impacted by brain health.
The American Association of Neuroscience Nurses (AANN) is the professional organization for nurses in this specialty and is an excellent resource for both novice and veteran neuroscience nurses. Nurses can connect with others in their field, learn about educational opportunities, find out about conferences, and have access to job openings. Because neuroscience nurses have a complex specialty, the network of nurses in the field can act as a nationwide resource for puzzling cases or to hear about groundbreaking research being done around the globe. Nurses might also reference the World Federation of Neuroscience Nurses to see what’s happening in the field worldwide.
Neuroscience nurses know that brain health can change everything from a patient’s physical health to their psychological health and so they must be able to adapt to changing conditions rapidly and calmly. As they gain experience in the field they develop valuable knowledge and capabilities that positively impact the patient and the larger health team. While the challenges are constant, so are the rewards.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are hot topics in the healthcare world, but including a DEI module in our yearly education isn’t enough to address these issues. Policy is a valuable tool, but actual change needs to come from a more personal level, from each and every staff member.
Before we can have a meaningful conversation about DEI that might lead us toward significant change, we need to understand the meaning of diversity, equity, and inclusion and why it is important in healthcare.
First, the issues often relate to our biases, especially those so deeply ingrained in our life circumstances that we aren’t aware of them. We can’t advocate for what we don’t understand, and if we don’t advocate for change, we will stay in our “safe” silos, which only strengthens the idea that we are separate and different.
Understanding that we are separate and different and what that means is the first step in making diversity, equity, and inclusion a part of our workspace and nurse recruitment.
Diversity is simply including people with different backgrounds. For example, when healthcare systems conduct nurse staffing while considering different cultural, gender, religious, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic backgrounds, the staff benefits from exposure to differences among coworkers, and patients feel more comfortable knowing they aren’t alone.
Our healthcare system has been lacking in diversity from the beginning, and although we’ve seen a lot of progress since the days when only white males could practice medicine, we are far from diverse.
In one study, over 56% of physicians identified as White and 64% as male, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). According to Minority Nurse, about 75% of RNs identify as White, and 91% are female. So if most doctors and nurses are white, most doctors are male, and most nurses are female, who are we really serving?
When we don’t have a common background, it’s easy to make the mistake of seeing the patient through our own lens instead of their reality. Our lenses place them where we want them to be—fully able and capable of taking the steps we want them to take for their health. The outcomes we desire assume the tools, processes, and understanding are within their reach and that they have the same goals we do.
Textbook knowledge can never make up for the lack of diversity in our own lives. And our lack of understanding of our patients’ reality can lead to misunderstanding or errors in care, creating inequity. Hiring a diverse workforce promotes understanding and creates a more comfortable environment for patients and coworkers alike.
Equity is a concept that often gets confused with equality. In healthcare, equality means giving everybody the same resource or opportunity to achieve their health goals. Equity is recognizing that each person has different circumstances and honoring that by allocating opportunities and resources to allow them to reach an equal outcome.
Simply giving someone an opportunity isn’t enough if they don’t have the means to use it. Equity can only be achieved when nobody is allowed to be disadvantaged due to age, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, geographical background, or socioeconomic status.
Access to life-saving medication is an example of inequity we see every day. A medication that costs hundreds of dollars every month may not be out of reach for someone with superb insurance coverage and a large bank account. For someone whose job doesn’t offer prescription coverage or who doesn’t make a living wage, that life-saving medication is technically available but far out of their reach. Far too many patients fail to fill the prescriptions they need for this reason.
Healthcare policy can promote equity, but we can also change how we treat and educate patients. In our medication example, we could address a patient’s ability to obtain a prescription before they leave the office or hospital. No patient should walk out the door with a prescription they can’t fill.
Inclusion is about deliberately creating a respectful and safe environment for all staff and patients. Inclusion means giving patients and staff a voice in giving and receiving care and encouraging diversity. Healthcare isn’t the place for a one-size-fits-all approach. We must all strive to embrace diversity and promote equity.
Nurses Are Uniquely Positioned to Champion DEI
Nurses may have little say in enacting policy within their healthcare systems but are very likely the first and last staff member a patient sees and the role they interact with most frequently. That close relationship with our patients makes nurses the most important role to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion with our patients, in nursing education, and within our own workspaces.
One of the most essential directives we learned in nursing school may have been to meet patients where they’re at. Let’s add and coworkers to that and, together, we can create a more effective healthcare system that serves all people.
Today’s healthcare landscape has been riddled with hardship and systemic shifts. Large-scale downward trends were highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis, but originated beforehand and will require massive effort to reverse.
Unfortunately, the brunt of these inefficiencies and problems falls disproportionately on certain portions of the medical professional family. One primary example of this is the way problems in healthcare affect nurses. The rising stresses and demands on nursing professionals have initiated a drastic nurse staffing crisis, emptying the nursing ranks across the country, and creating significant employment shortages.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, vacant nursing positions across the United States hover at almost 200,000 openings each year. A number of problems are contributing to this reality and need to be resolved.
1. Nurses Are Often Unreasonably Responsible for the Weight of Patient Advocacy
Historically, nurses have often taken the lion’s share of responsibility for patient advocacy. This can refer to calling for fair and adequate treatment, helping other medical professionals understand the particulars of patient cases and needs, mediating and safeguarding for vulnerable patients, and more.
However, this burden can cause a significant amount of stress, especially when a nurse feels that they are advocating for patients’ needs in the face of apathy or even resistance from fellow medical professionals who might have differing priorities.
2. COVID-19 Requirements Drove Many Nurses Out the Door
COVID-19 requirements and vaccine mandates created huge turbulence for nurses across the medical landscape. Many that disagreed with requirements or how they were put into effect left the workforce. This created another large drain on an already depleted nursing population.
3. Workplace Stress is Compounded for Nurses – It Comes from Both Sides
Nurses often liaise between patients (and their friends or families) and fellow medical staff. When tensions rise; stressful or difficult situations bring out the worst in people; or priorities differ between stakeholders in a patient’s care, nurses can find themselves caught in the middle.
They often have to diffuse the stress exuded by patients, family, partners, and friends as well as helping navigate the stress and difficulties their fellow medical personnel experience. It’s an incredibly difficult job.
5. Current Inefficiencies of Healthcare System Fall More Heavily on Nurses
The nature of nursing roles means that when the medical field experiences turbulence or systemic problems, that uncertainty or strain inordinately affects nurses.
6. The Problem is Self-Propelling: Nurse Shortages Beget More Nursing Shortages
Burnout and the long-term stress of overwork is one of the most critical problems affecting the nursing population. When some nurses quit their jobs or leave a medical facility, or when open positions remain vacant for long periods of time, the existing workload falls on the nurses that remain.
This compounds the stress, overwork, and impossible expectations that remaining nurses experience, making it more likely that those remaining nurses will succumb to the stress as well and leave the workforce.
7. Pandemic’s Effects on Medical Training
COVID-19 created staggering difficulties for medical trainees across the board. Many nursing students that were in school during the height of the pandemic would have lost out on valuable class time or training weren’t able to complete parts of their coursework, or were called up early into the workforce to cover drastic needs and shortages. Many of these new nurses entered employment feeling unprepared and more susceptible to intense stress and burnout, thus ending up more likely to leave the field.
8. Average Nursing Age Looms Over Staffing Projections
The average age of nurses across the country was 50 years old in 2018. The current number of new nurses entering the workforce will not replace the large number of nursing professionals quickly reaching retirement age. If these trends do not change, projections are dire for how nursing shortages will increase over the next decade.
How to Correct These Issues
These large-scale realities are significant and systemic. It will take significant, intentional action to correct course and make the nursing profession more accessible and sustainable. If the healthcare system can take corrective action to lessen the stresses that fall on nurses, make their jobs more secure, and help spread the responsibilities nurses currently hold more collaboratively amongst other medical professionals, we can reverse these trends.
In the middle of National Nurses Week, a day is designated to honor the school nurses who work in schools nationwide and address issues that range from splinters to seizures. This year’s School Nurse Day on May 11 helps recognize and celebrate this career.
School nurses take care of children who attend school and with that familiarity they build close relationships with the children they see and often their families. Like a puzzle to piece together, school nurses work with the larger school community to understand and help treat the health needs of schoolchildren.
The pandemic has put increased pressure on school nurses, who already frequently are short staffed in their school districts. As much as school nurses are expected to advocate for the children they care for, they also need to advocate for themselves and their profession to ensure the best conditions for them to do their jobs.
For 2022, NASN targets areas that have a powerful impact on the children they work with, and their families, and issues that influence how a school nurse can operate within a school. Topmost is that each child should have access to a school nurse with the passage of the Nurses for Under-Resourced Schools Everywhere (Nurse) Act. Passage of this act would make it easier for schools to fund school nurses and would have the intention of alleviating some of the financial cost to districts. With grants, schools would be more able to provide a nurse who is sometimes the only medical professional a child might see.
In a forward-looking advocacy, NASN also encourages nurses to work for passage of the Tobacco Tax Equity Act, which will impart a tax on more tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. By raising taxes, nurses would hope to address the health disparities that are linked to youth tobacco use–and that in the wider community.
Because nurses know that health equity is so essential, the passage of the Improving the Social Determinants of Health Act is another identified priority. Children can’t learn as effectively if they don’t have secure housing or a nourishing and stable food supply. These and other social factors that provide a foundation from which children can have better lives are essential.
Advocacy can take as much time as a nurse has to offer. From writing to a legislator to getting more involved with work on the local, state, or federal level, there is always something that can be done to help make the jobs of school nurses and the schoolchildren they work with better.
A school nurse is a health practitioner in the educational field and so straddles two distinct professional worlds. Their work, focused on the students and their families, must encompass health and also the wider community they may see. Despite the tensions that can sometimes arise between the two areas, school nurses find incredibly meaningful, challenging, and rewarding work in their field.