Kevin Emmons is a Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden clinical associate professor and a U.S. Army veteran who currently serves as a member of the Army Reserve. Pictured here serving in Iraq in 2017.

A new partnership between Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden (RSNC) and WRI has resulted in federal funding for an innovative new program for military veterans. The Veteran Nurses in Primary Care program seeks to train those who have served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces as registered nurses with the long-term goal of providing primary care to other veterans. It’s supported by a three-year, nearly $1.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and will provide a comprehensive support system to increase nursing degree completion among veterans, as well as assess the resources and services that veteran students need to transition into an academic environment and succeed in their studies. WRI will provide technical evaluation and quality improvement assessment throughout the project.

Rutgers University—New Jersey’s only designated Purple Heart University—has a well-established support system for student veterans to reach their academic goals. On the Camden campus, the Office of Military & Veteran Affairs and the Student Veterans Organization assist students with the transition to academic life and connect them with other students through events honoring veterans and other campus-wide activities. RSNC scholarships for nursing student veterans are also an example of this commitment to support veterans.

Yet research has highlighted the importance of specialized support in promoting nursing student learning and development of appropriate skills, most notably in clinical experiences and specific placement environments. This program will place veteran students with project partners providing care to veterans in underserved and rural populations each semester, and evaluate the educational as well as relational experiences that veteran students have with practicing RNs, clinical preceptors, and faculty. Additionally, review of the clinical training curricula will ensure that any clinical competencies needed in primary care, population health, and interprofessional education are being addressed.

Uniquely, veteran students recruited for this program will be able to share their stories through mini-documentaries, or video diaries. Visual images provide a venue for expressing thoughts and emotions that may be difficult to articulate, and video diaries are a method for individuals to tell their own stories. Research has shown their value in facilitating recovery from mental distress through enhanced agency, self-reflection, and self-advocacy. Students will have the option to participate in the video portion, and program team members will use these personal stories to look for any physical, emotional, and environmental needs and offer support or make changes to the program.

Following graduation, the program will track student nurses for two years to assess employment success. Over three years, the program will work to train nearly 40 nurses, with the goal of graduates working directly with other veterans following graduation. Read the news release.