By Kim Walter
Fewer than 10 universities across the country have received a grant to help identify and educate military veterans pursuing the field of professional nursing, and Shenandoah University is one of them.
Through more than $1.2 million in funding, the university is participating in a project and cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Shenandoah's project aims to identify and enroll veterans who received medical training and gained experience while they were in the service, and to help those individuals transition into the civilian workforce as bachelor degree-prepared nurses.
Pamela Cangelosi, associate dean for academics and the project's director, said with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, thousands of medically trained personnel are separating from military service with valuable skills.
"One would expect their skills to logically translate into civilian health care professions such as nursing, where large workforce shortages are projected for the future," she said.
The grant allowed Shenandoah to creatively develop ways to fully evaluate veterans' past experiences for the purpose of awarding nursing credit, according to Cangelosi.
"These men and women have had high-quality training and have acted independently in the most difficult circumstances imaginable to save lives and care for their fellow warriors," she said. "They don't want to re-start their learning from scratch."
Veterans enrolling in the program will be interviewed, and their past credits and experiences will go under review to ensure they are a good fit.
Cangelosi said the university did a needs assessment before applying for the grant in order to find out how many eligible veterans are in the area. The assessment looked at 250-mile radius, including the Washington, D.C. area and places in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
A 2010 study alone identified about 1,500 military personnel with nursing experience from the nation's capital, Cangelosi said.
"We consulted with a variety of folks on this, and the results proved to us that this was a project and opportunity we needed to pursue," she said.
While the program will look at educational needs of eligible students, it will also address ways to help the returning veterans acclimate to civilian life.
The university already has a number of nursing faculty members who are also retired military personnel.
Rosalie Lewis, a nursing faculty member and retired Navy Nurse Corps Capt., will coordinate the student's clinical placements. Lewis served 24 years in active duty spanning two major wars, Vietnam and the Gulf War.
She said she was actively involved in education opportunities the whole time she was in the service, and couldn't be more excited about starting the project at Shenandoah.
"These folks have worked with the elderly and the young, they've worked on a ship or in a distant clinic," she said. "This program will take all those tools and real life experiences, and pull it all together for a bachelor's degree."
Lewis added that she had the opportunity to advance her career using the G.I. Bill and said she hopes that by participating in the new program, it will be a way to give back to those she's served with, both directly and indirectly.
While the university is prepared to enroll some younger veterans of recent service, the program is also open to any veteran with nursing experience who is looking to further their education and "climb the career ladder."
Shenandoah University expects to recruit more than 175 veterans with prior medical experience into its nursing program, and to graduate approximately 80 students during the four-year project.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org