Nursing services are critically important at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as they are at any healthcare organization. But thanks to VA’s Nurse Executives and a commitment to collaboration, nurses are always at the table when decisions are made about Veterans’ healthcare.

“At every VA that I’m aware of, the Nurse Executive is on the senior leadership team,” said Timothy Cooke, Medical Center Director at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia and who colleagues roundly praise as a strong supporter of VA nursing. “Our common bond is that we put Veterans at the center, and everyone who supports that are equal in their service to them.”

For Cooke, that equality extends to anyone knocking on his door to discuss a clinical practice challenge, innovation or another matter.

“We can walk into anyone else’s office and discuss a situation freely and without prejudice,” he said of his staff. “It’s not ‘my’ problem or ‘your’ problem. If we have a situation, it’s our problem or our issue to resolve together.”

Collaborating nationally to improve care locally

VA Nurse Executives, stationed around the country, are highly respected and skilled, and together lead VA’s nearly 100,000-strong nursing service. Whether they’re serving as Chief Nurse, Director of Nursing Services or Associate Director of Patient Care Services, each nurse leader is working toward improved nursing care for the nation’s Veterans.

“Nurse Executives advocate for and promote evidence-based clinical practices that enable all nursing staff to function at the top of their license in the provision of care to Veterans,” said Kathleen Barry, National Program Director for Workforce and Leadership at VA’s Office of Nursing Services.

Despite being located in nearly every state and the territories, VA encourages Nurse Executives to learn from each other through national email groups, comprehensive national and local nursing websites, and internal networking and discussion boards.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of being a VA Nurse Executive is having 141 fellow Nurse Executives as colleagues who serve as subject matter experts in every domain of professional practice and leadership,” Barry said. “The ability to reach out and easily collaborate is wonderful!”

VA’s Nurse Executives consult on the Nursing Executive Leadership Board and Field Advisory Committee, where they share information and contribute to decision making. VA Nurse Executives also have access to peers nationwide to ask consultation and practice questions, develop research and contribute to quality improvement.

“VA Nurse Executives participate on nurse-specific committees as well as interprofessional programs and task forces at the local and national level to develop innovative and progressive approaches that influence the practice and delivery of care, not just within VA, but potentially on a national level,” Barry said.

Shaping the quality of care

Nurse leadership is also nurtured among VA’s front-line nurses. Nursing personnel are encouraged to share their ideas and concerns, serve on national and local decision-making committees and become educated and trained nurse leaders in their own right.

Overall, this cooperative environment positively impacts the quality of healthcare and reliability of service at VA.

“Shared decision making, evidence-based practice, and the pursuit of advanced education and certification have a positive impact on nurse satisfaction, clinical outcomes for Veterans and Veteran satisfaction,” Barry said.

VA’s system also fosters the leadership skills and sense of duty prevalent among VA’s nursing and other healthcare professionals — thousands of whom are Veterans, in the reserves or come from families who served and all of whom view working at VA as a career with a mission to give back.

Choose VA today

Nurse Executives who work in the private sector are taking notice of the opportunities to lead at VA and the benefits of VA careers, Cooke said.

“We are finding that more and more of our team are coming from outside organizations to the VA because, for one, we offer superb benefits for nurses,” Cooke said. “But also, because the mission is so clear, and they get to care for family, those that represent their family and those that served.”

See if the choice of a career as a VA Nurse Executive/Associate Director is right for you.

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Published on Apr. 3, 2019

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