Army, Navy, and Air Force medics receive hundreds of hours of training. Then, they spend hundreds more hours treating patients wounded while serving in the United States Armed Forces. This clinical experience, however, is rarely recognized once they return to civilian life. If former medics want to become nurses, they almost always have to start from scratch.
Not at Herzing University in Madison, WI.
Herzing is in the process of expanding its fledgling Vet2RN program, which launched last summer and now grants military medics up to 20 transfer credits to complete an Associate Degree of Nursing in as little as one year.
Jennifer Kowalkowski, associate academic dean for healthcare, said the start of the program was mostly serendipitous for the veteran-friendly university. Herzing was founded by a Navy veteran and gives service members preference in the application process. But it was a grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs that spurred the program’s development. Wisconsin was one of six states that received federal funding to help veterans transition back into the civilian workforce. Out of its 11 campuses nationwide, Madison is still the only Herzing campus to offer the Vet2RN program, but Kowalkowski hopes that won’t be true for long.
“There’s just so much training that is provided in the military,” Kowalkowski said. “Let’s do a better job of recognizing that.”
With an increasing number of colleges exploring competency-based programs, Kowalkowski said academia may be in the perfect place to embrace the idea of transfer credit for veterans. When it comes to nursing, Herzing was helped along dramatically by a report from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, which analyzed the training for Army, Air Force, and Navy medics, comparing it to the training of licensed practical nurses. Herzing already had a bridge program on its Florida campus for LPNs interested in becoming registered nurses. It simply expanded the bridge to incorporate the skillsets of medics.
On the surface, the program development seemed straight forward, but Kowalkowski said it was a large undertaking. A transitions course turned out to be much more intensive than expected and the university decided to expand the course from eight to 16 weeks and add an extra instructor. Program leaders spent a lot of time communicating with students, figuring out what they needed to help them transition into civilian life and the training program.
Veterans, the university found, may not have any experience at all navigating the civilian world. Some went straight from high school to the service and landed at the university right after their contracts ended.
“Making sure that support is there, having the face-to-face time to walk people through these processes, is critical,” Kowalkowski said.
Most of the other RN programs from Herzing campuses are for bachelor’s degrees rather than associate degrees. Kowalkowski said that is the direction in which nursing is moving. One challenge for the university as it seeks to expand the Vet2RN program will be figuring out how to award transfer credits into the longer programs. Herzing administrators are also exploring other content areas that could fit with a similar bridge program. Next up could be physical therapy assistants.
There has been a significant focus at the state and federal level to develop employment pathways for veterans returning to civilian life. In 2014 there were 573,000 unemployed veterans, or 5.3% of the veteran population. The Vet2RN program is one way to give Army, Navy, and Air Force medics a chance to use what they learned in the military to jump start their careers. And soon, it looks like medics won’t be the only ones able to bridge their skills.
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