Based in Richmond, Va, Catherine is a freelance writer specializing in stories about the arts, parenting, health and wellness, aging, and fascinating people.

Nursing Degree Program Prepares Veterans for a New Mission

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The determined middle child in a family of five children, Misty Hairston entered the Air Force Reserves nearly five years ago. “I went to Patrick Henry Community College right out of high school,” she says, “but, because I was one of five kids, I knew I would need to join the reserves to help pay for college.”

A native of Hawaii, Hairston spent most of her life in Virginia. Now, at 26, after persevering through Boot Camp and special trainings, she is about to graduate from the Veteran’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program (VBSN) at Jefferson College of Health Sciences (JCHS) in Roanoke.

More than double the number of veterans have benefited from the program

JCHS developed the VBSN program after becoming one of 31 colleges to receive a $1 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration Bureau of Health Professions. Designated a Military Friendly school by Victory Media for the sixth consecutive year, JCHS has used the grant to help veterans enroll in the program, progress through the program and find work after graduation. Since receiving the grant, JCHS has nearly doubled its veteran population overall.

Saving time and money

Some of the veteran support involves validating veterans’ experiential learning and accepting credits in ways that other schools might not. “The standards for acceptance in the VBSN are still very high,” explains Ava Porter, DNP, RN, CNE, VBSN Project Director at JCHS, “but we seek to reward their prior learning that comes from formal training and work experience.” For veterans who have had significant healthcare experience in the military, JCHS looks for ways to save them time and money. “We explore all options to help veterans apply their experience toward the program credits to help the students move through more quickly.”

Hairston did not have healthcare experience in the military, and she benefited from this support when she entered the VBSN program. JCHS accepted credits for her Air Force boot camp and job training, so she was able to opt out of a few classes.

Accommodating veterans’ current military obligations

JCHS is also able to provide various options and individualized plans of study. Some students, for instance, are on education leave from active duty. Others, like Hairston, are in the reserves. The college provides multiple RN programs, from a traditional 4-year program, to an accelerated track, to the RN to BSN program.

The individualized plan is just one reason Hairston chose to attend JCHS. “I like that it’s about an hour away from my home in Martinsville,” Hairston says, “but I also really like that it’s a small program.” She came into the nursing program knowing it would be difficult; she wanted a program where the professors know who she is and can help her achieve success.

The program’s small size has been important to Hairston throughout her coursework. “All the professors know the students, and they know your strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “They make themselves available, and I love that about them. They truly care.”

The professors’ accessibility has helped Hairston transition from community college, where the curriculum was more guided, to nursing school, where the professors work to help students think critically and make good judgments. “You have to know the basics and be able to apply it,” Hairston says. “That comes with repetition. The more you do it the better you get.”

Over the past several years, Hairston has developed the extensive knowledge and critical thinking skills she needs to succeed. This year, for instance, Hairston was one of six students chosen for the Virginia Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) Program with the Salem VA Medical Center. Over 100 students applied, so Hairston was grateful for the opportunity to experience additional clinical hours over the course of her senior year. “I wish everyone could participate,” Hairston says. “It’s just you and the nurse, so it’s a great experience.”

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