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Program trains nurses to treat vets
0324 Health nurses vets
Tia Canty, a student in MCG’s Dedicated Clinical Nurse Leader-Students to Veterans Program, examines Calvin Johnson, a patient at the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Augusta, before he is discharged
AUGUSTA — An innovative partnership between the Medical College of Georgia and Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Augusta will better prepare nursing students who want to treat veterans.
The Dedicated Clinical Nurse Leader-Students to Veterans Program allows six MCG clinical nurse leader students to complete three of their four clinical rotations at the VA hospital, fostering a consistent learning-teaching environment that familiarizes them with the health-care needs of veterans. MCG’s clinical nurse leader program is a master’s-level program that trains students to oversee the care coordination of groups of patients.
“There are models and research that show we can decrease our medical errors and increase our health-care delivery efficiencies if we keep our students in dedicated units,” said program creator Dr. Janie Heath, MCG School of Nursing associate dean for academic affairs.
Heath, who worked for several years as a nurse practitioner at the VA, cited the benefits of working alongside the VA’s acute-care nurses.
“It’s a complex system, and we educate (clinical nurse leaders) to work in those complex systems as care coordinators,” she said. “Although it’s not guaranteed, the hope is that students will return to work at the VA after graduating.”
Nursing students typically complete rotations in multiple hospitals, sampling several specialties, but students who know they want to work with veterans now have a perfect fit, Heath said.
Tehrae Heflin, a CNL student and U.S. Air Force officer whose mother also served in the military, said he feels a special calling to work in the VA system.
“Without VA medical centers, former servicemen and women, like my mother, would not receive necessary health care at an affordable cost,” Heflin said. “I feel that the VA will aid in the mentorship I need.”
Tia Canty concurs. Being the granddaughter of a World War II veteran taught her the importance of VA health care.
“I saw how they took care of him and what a great job they did. I had a lot of respect for those nurses,” the CNL student said. “My grandfather gave so much to me and family, and I wanted to give back. The program is preparing me to do just that.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs aims to have at least one clinical nurse leader on staff by 2012 and at least one in every unit by 2016.
“We already have four CNLs on staff, so we’re ahead of the curve,” said Jawel Lemons, the VA’s associate director of nursing and patient services. “We started planning in fall 2008 to hire a CNL because we understood the value they would bring.”
Paula Miller, one of the VA’s first CNLs, is also one of the first in the country and has helped several universities begin CNL programs. As the MCG program’s preceptor, she cites the “marriage” between academia and clinical practice as an excellent way to produce skilled and efficient nurses.
“The role and goal of a CNL is to join the clinical environment with the administrative one and achieve the ultimate in patient care,” Miller said.
MCG’s CNL was created in 2006 to alleviate a statewide nursing shortage by offering accelerated training for people with degrees in other fields. For more information, go to

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