UMass Amherst Gets $1 Million, Three-Year Federal Grant for Program Assisting Veterans Entering the Nursing Workforce

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing has received a three-year, $1 million federal grant to implement “Heroes into Health Care: Veterans Entering the Nursing Workforce,” a program designed to increase the number and percentage of ethnic minority and disadvantaged veterans who successfully complete a university-based nursing education and become employed as nurses.

Funding for the new program comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration.

Jean E. Swinney, professor of nursing, principal investigator and director of the program, says this program plays an important role in matching the strengths of the College of Nursing to the needs and skills of veterans. She notes that men and women who undergo combat medical training and deployment are of above average intelligence and educational attainment and have the potential to successfully complete a nursing program of study. Veterans also have a demonstrated ability to learn and to function effectively as part of a team, and have an unparalleled commitment to service demonstrated through their combat experience. Additionally, veterans bring a strong level of real-world experience to their nursing education, which can enrich the educational experience of both students and faculty.

“The Heroes into Health Care initiative is designed to address the social and structural determinants of health by targeting minority and disadvantaged veterans, including veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars by using a strategy of recruiting, supporting and retaining veterans in nursing,” Swinney says. “Veterans face severe barriers to employment and career advancement upon return from military duty. Heroes into Health Care helps address this need by significantly increasing nursing education opportunities for persons from disadvantaged backgrounds and their employment in the national nursing workforce.”         

The program will recruit and enroll a total of at least 70 minority and disadvantaged veterans, some of whom have served in Iraq and Afghanistan as U.S. Army combat medics and U.S. Navy hospital corpsmen. Special attention will be given to veterans with combat medical experience who are able to successfully complete a university-based nursing education and become employed in the field of nursing.

Participants will be recruited from throughout the Springfield and western Massachusetts region as well as from neighboring metropolitan areas such as New York and Boston, and on a national basis through the program’s distance learning component.

There are three potential courses offered through the program. These include a traditional four-year course of study at UMass Amherst for those who qualify, an accelerated 2+2 program combining two years of community college with two years at UMass Amherst and a distance-based learning program, which includes an annual summer intern program at UMass Amherst for selected students.

The university will provide a broad range of services and programs to help support students and ensure their success. These include a full-time project coordinator who will build relationships with public and private veterans support organizations while fully integrating the program within the UMass system. There will also be a half-time student advisor/navigator who builds supportive one-on-one relationships with students and helps gain access to all needed services and support. The program will also offer a reflective practice consultant who meets with, supports and works with returning veteran nursing students and College of Nursing faculty to support growth-promoting relationships while sponsoring at least quarterly student collaborative workshops and twice a year faculty workshops. In addition, the program includes a distinguished combat veteran mental health consultant who will conduct veteran groups outreach while providing direct faculty and student support.

Other key components of the program are a range of supportive interventions and enrichment activities, including access to high quality tutoring services and counseling services to cope with the effects of trauma and PTSD.

There will also be a student financial support program that includes an average of five scholarships per year at $10,000 as well as monthly stipends for an average of 12 returning veteran nursing students. The program will also incorporate an aggressive demonstration program designed to share lessons learned nationwide to encourage increased hiring of military medic personnel in schools of nursing.