South Florida Hospital News
Sunday August 25, 2019

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August 2014 - Volume 11 - Issue 2




Innovative New Partnership Between FIU and Miami VA Healthcare System Will Help Train Veteran-Centric Nurses

As thousands of U.S. troops return home, today’s practicing nurses and future professionals must be better prepared to understand and manage the complexities of caring for Florida’s 1.5 million veterans and their families. The need in South Florida is especially critical, since Metropolitan Miami has the third highest number of veterans in the country.
An innovative new partnership between Florida International University (FIU) Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences and the Miami VA Healthcare System (MVAHS) will help educate healthcare providers so they can better serve those who have served our nation. Called Veterans Affairs Nursing Academic Partnership (VANAP), the program recently received $8 million in federal funding.
The Veterans Affairs Office of Academic Affiliation selected FIU as one of three universities nationwide to launch the five-year program in the 2014-2015 academic year. In previous years, the VA has enlisted other universities, bringing the total to about 20 universities nationwide participating in the program. VANAP will promote recruitment and retention of VA nurses, increase enrollment in the undergraduate nursing program, develop inter-professional education and focus on skills specific to military health concerns.
“VANAP will substantively change how VA facilities and nursing schools everywhere can work together to treat and care for this unique patient population,” said Ora L. Strickland, dean of the FIU Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences.
The VANAP partnership will leverage academic and clinical resources to thread FIU’s entire baccalaureate nursing curriculum with a focus on veteran-related healthcare issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), chemical exposure, major traumatic limb loss and rehabilitation, and specific mental health problems.
“VANAP will help sensitize nurses to veterans’ needs throughout their entire education and fine-tune their expertise to better manage the needs of patients, families and caregivers,” said Deborah Clarke, chief nurse for surgery at the Miami VA. “As a result, veterans who seek care within the VA medical centers and throughout the community will have an increased cadre of nurses who have received specific education related to the veteran culture and experience.”
In addition, the partners will create and seek accreditation for a post-baccalaureate nurse residency program at the Miami VA Healthcare System aimed at nurse recruitment and retention for the VA hospital system, which is always in need of highly qualified and dedicated nurses.
“Goals of the residency program are to create a pool of well-qualified applicants for future staffing needs while combating the aging problem,” said Clarke. “Hiring costs will also be reduced, since nurses in the post-baccalaureate residency program will be able to assume full patient care responsibilities with minimal orientation. They will also be culturally prepared to manage patient care and navigate through the veteran’s healthcare system.”
Strickland noted that while only six to eight individual nursing students will be selected each year for the residency program, the curriculum for all FIU nursing students will be more veteran-centric. “All our students will be better prepared to go out and do a much better job of taking care of our veterans,” she said. “While we’ve started with the nursing program, we will also provide clinical experiences at the VA for other health services programs, such as physical, occupational and speech therapy.”
Faculty at FIU and the Miami VA will work side by side as one unit, planning the education of nursing students as well as the care of veterans. “Next year, there will be 10 FIU and VA faculty working together with office space and classrooms at both locations,” said Strickland. “It will be a highly integrated experience from the perspective of the faculty as well as the students. Marcia Lysaght, the head of patient care services at the VA, and I will work closely together as administrators for these programs to ensure they are moving closely together in the manner that they should.”
Paul M. Russo, MHSA, FACHE, director at the Miami VA Healthcare System, said, “The Miami VA Healthcare System looks forward to our partnership with FIU, given the great commitment FIU has made to veterans’ education. This competitive funding award demonstrates the excellence each institution brings as a win-win for our staff, future nursing students and, most importantly, our veterans.”
Strickland noted that the partnership will serve as a model for others, and also show how health educators can connect with service delivery facilities within the community to make decisions in a more collaborative and integrative way. “It opens up opportunities and a new way of looking at our relationship with each other as we educate healthcare providers and take care of our veterans and their families,” she said.
For more information about the Miami VA, visit; and about the FIU Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences, visit
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