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Auburn, AUM nursing students to experience care for wounded warriors at Walter Reed in spring 2014

by Frank Miles | Nov 08, 2013

Nursing students at Auburn University and Auburn Montgomery will have the opportunity this spring to work with staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., providing care to wounded service men and women.

“With a growing number of service members, veterans and their family members seeking care outside of the Military and Veterans Affairs health systems, it’s imperative for our students to be properly prepared to address their physical, as well as emotional, needs,” said Schools of Nursing Dean Gregg Newschwander. “We are fortunate to have an agreement with Walter Reed to provide this clinical opportunity.”

When David Crumbley joined the Auburn faculty in 2012 as an assistant clinical professor, nursing faculty on both campuses had been considering ways to expand the curriculum to include exploring the health needs and challenges of military service members.

A 23-year veteran of the U.S. military, Crumbley had spent four years at the National Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, caring for the wounded and also one year in the Veterans Administration Central Office, where he was responsible for facilitating partnerships between the Department of Defense, Veterans Administration and civilian agencies to enhance care coordination for the severely wounded, ill and injured warriors.

“I was motivated to do something within my first three months in Auburn and Montgomery,” he said. “I was encountering women who were agonizing over the behavioral problems of their sons and husbands who were suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. In each case, they didn’t know the warning signs or where to find help until it was too late.”

Crumbley decided to contact a former colleague in Bethesda. Commander Michele Kane, the current director of the Centers for Nursing Science and Clinical Inquiry at Walter Reed and a 1992 alumna of the Auburn Montgomery School of Nursing, had worked with Crumbley on several projects affecting the care of wounded soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.

Between Crumbley and Kane, with assistance from Auburn associate professor Libba McMillan, wife of a former U.S. Air Force pilot, and Auburn Montgomery associate professor Marilyn Rhodes, a retired colonel and 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, a five-year agreement between the schools and Walter Reed was reached this fall.

The first clinical experience is scheduled for spring break 2014. Crumbley said students will spend five days focusing on the different points of care from injury to recovery, rotating through the Intensive Care Unit, surgical inpatient unit, inpatient and outpatient physical therapy, inpatient and outpatient mental health and the Warrior Transition units on base.

“Not only will they meet with the wounded warriors, but they will have the opportunity to meet with family members allowing them to understand the issues they face during this recovery process,” he added.

Lt. Col. Kyle Feger, commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Benning, Ga., and other members of the battalion staff recently visited with Auburn and AUM students in Montgomery to discuss the continuity of care they offer wounded, ill and injured soldiers and their families. The meeting, which also included presentations from Crumbley and Kane, was meant to show students what they would witness and experience at Walter Reed or Fort Benning.

“We plan to build a partnership with the Warrior Transition Battalion, which will provide our students with a better understanding of those who have suffered the wounds of war,” said Rhodes.

The agreement with Walter Reed outlines two objectives: Project SERVE and Project INNOVATE. The first goal is to jointly develop training opportunities for nursing students to conceptualize the challenges faced by returning service members and veterans; understand the best practices associated with caring for these individuals and their families; and disseminate the most up-to-date information on traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It is vital that professional nursing trains and develops nurses to meet the needs of the changing landscape facing our nation as the current conflicts draw down and our nation’s heroes return home,” said Auburn’s McMillan.

The nursing faculty strongly believe knowledge in such areas will also be applicable for nursing students treating non-combat health conditions, such as motor vehicle accidents and head injuries; diabetic loss of limb and neuropathy; and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For the second goal, the schools will share the knowledge gained from the collaboration with other health care personnel and community members via distance learning technology.

“Health care providers and nursing students throughout this country need to have fundamental understanding about traumatic brain injury to effectively recognize these conditions and develop nursing interventions that positively impact health care outcomes for our veterans,” said McMillan.

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