TAMPA — Military medics unable to transition their life-saving skills into the civilian world are the focus of a new University of South Florida nursing program.
Within the next few weeks, USF is expected to open applications for its first veteran-centered bachelor’s degree in nursing. A $1.25 million grant awarded to USF last month is designed to attract up to 24 prospective students for its launch in fall 2014.
In 2009, an estimated 20,000 former medics and Navy corpsmen were unemployed, partly because many didn’t think they had the access or ability to pursue a bachelor’s degree, said Alicia Gill Rossiter, coordinator of graduate nursing simulation at USF’s College of Nursing.
USF’s program, called V-CARE, was designed in part by input from medics, Navy corpsmen and veterans. Many said rigid university rules didn’t recognize military medical experience, and forced them to compete against civilian students for a limited number of spots, said Rita D’Aoust, the college’s associate dean for academic affairs and interprofessional initiatives.
“Our service members want to get into nursing but they are incredibly frustrated,” she said.
As a result, applicants to this new program will be assessed differently, and will be allowed flexibility in earning pre-requisite class credits, D’Aoust told attendees at Monday’s Joining Forces nursing education conference at USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation.
“They were afraid,” D’Aoust said.
Many feared they had used up their education benefits under the G.I. Bill on courses required for a nursing program then fail to win acceptance to a program.
USF is one of nine universities nationwide creating nursing programs for veterans, part of a push to help address a national shortage of registered civilian nurses that’s expected to swell in the next 20 years. Participants will earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing after just four semesters at USF.
Many of these veteran medics already have experience comparable to civilian licensed practical nurses or nurse’s aides, Rossiter said. Making the transition from their battlefield healthcare skills to a civilian setting will require faculty who understand what these veterans have experienced, she said.
It’s critical to understand the special needs veterans have, said Peter Burch, a retired military medic now training at USF to be a licensed nurse practitioner. His own experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder provide perspective and help him see the value in being a nurse in the civilian world.
“And as a nurse, I feel I can help others,” he said.