Grant Expands Training for Nursing Students to Serve Veterans

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Grant expands training for nursing students to serve veterans

by Paul Sullivan, Montgomery Advertiser | Feb 16, 2016

At least 12 nursing students from Auburn University Montgomery and Auburn University will receive training at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital in Bethesda, Md., as a result of a $40,000 grant from the Daniel Foundation of Alabama.
AUM and AUM nursing students at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Project SERVE (Student’s Education Related to the Veteran Experience) provides nursing students the opportunity to travel to the hospital in Bethesda, and to gain clinical experience with returning service members, veterans and their families.

During the past two years12 students from each campus have participated in Project SERVE, impacting a total of 48 students. In addition, two faculty members from each campus attend, said Dr. Ramona Lazenby, associate dean and professor at the AUM College of Nursing and Health Sciences. 

“To date, Auburn University at Montgomery and Auburn University are the only schools of nursing that have been allowed at Walter Reed,” said Dr. Julie Freeman, assistant professor at the AUM School of Nursing.

There will be 12 students from each campus who will participate in 2016, Lazenby said, adding that the group stays Saturday through Thursday in the Navy Lodge located on base.

Monday through Wednesday, starting at 7 a.m., students will rotate through different departments including physical therapy, an in-patient mental health unit, a critical care unit, a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) unit, and the NICoE (National Intrepid Center of Excellence), Lazenby said.

“Students observe veterans being cared for as in-patients at Walter Reed. They observe patients in all stages of physical and occupational therapy. They also interact with service dogs and trainers,” Lazenby said.

Students witness both in-patient and outpatient services for warriors facing recovery from traumatic brain injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Freeman said.

“Students participate in panel discussions and seminars with veterans and their families about issues that have been faced secondary to deployment, injury and/or return to the family unit after being deployed,” Freeman said.

Students also hear about ongoing research that can be applicable to a variety of patients within the military healthcare setting, as well as civilians, Lazenby said.

Just as in 2015, the group in 2016 will visit Capitol Hill to take the message to representatives about efforts to understand returning Alabama veterans’ needs as well as veterans' concerns, Freeman said.

Over the years, Lazenby has seen the positive impact the trip has had on students. “The students have gained a new appreciation for all of our service men and women. They have learned how to effectively communicate in order to gain information necessary to adequately care for our veterans,” Lazenby said.

Freeman said the group also can share what they have learned with peers when they get back to Alabama, strengthening the overall healthcare system. “The students recognize that they now have important knowledge to share with colleagues as the majority of veterans in Alabama will seek care within their local community settings,” Freeman said. “In addition, the healthcare providers working with wounded warriors at Walter Reed have provided the students with their perspectives on the ongoing needs veterans will have as they return to their homes.”

Overall, the visit provides a unique opportunity for students to have the “lived experience” of caring for veterans, Lazenby said. “It gives them a personal frame of reference upon which to build their professional practice,” she added.

Dr. Jean Leuner, dean of the AUM College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said that the initiative impacts hundreds of people, from veterans to others who the students affect through the training they receive.

“Students refer to this unique experience as ‘transformative,’ and they are encouraged to share what they learn in order to promote best practices with other providers and students alike. We are extremely grateful to the Daniel Foundation for their support for such a significant educational experience that will touch countless lives,” Leuner said.

AUM also is working on building a relationship with Fort Benning in Georgia to allow nursing students to learn how to better care for returning warriors there, Lazenby said.

The Daniel Foundation of Alabama’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Alabama’s citizens, including military service members and veterans.

“The Daniel Foundation of Alabama has been a generous supporter of both Auburn University at Montgomery and Auburn University. This is the first gift from the Foundation specifically for Project SERVE,” said Martie McEnerney, senior development officer at the AUM Office of Advancement.

She added that the grant request was submitted to the Foundation in 2015, and a representative from the Daniel Foundation of Alabama made a visit to obtain additional information. AUM received word that it was chosen to fund Project SERVE in early October of 2015.

Using money to help nursing students in Alabama is a wise investment given the number of veterans in the state. Alabama is in the upper third of all states in veteran population, McEnerney said.

“Currently, there are 415,000 veterans living in Alabama, 318,000 having served during a period of war. The increasing probability of nursing students caring for a veteran in various stages of their health condition necessitates the need for nursing educators to lead in training and providing relevant clinical experiences to reinforce concepts learned in nursing curriculum,” McEnerney said. “The training is also rich in transference to the co-morbidities seen in Alabama, such as staggering rates of loss of limb due to diabetes and other health conditions.”

The grant will support the program at AUM for at least two years. The funds will provide support for transportation, lodging and food for students during clinical training at Walter Reed.

In addition, the grant will provide transportation and supplies for student-led training opportunities in local hospitals through in-service sessions. The training will be specifically targeted to healthcare personnel and community members facing veterans’ healthcare issues.