CAMDEN, NJ — A new program at Rutgers University–Camden will prepare military veterans for civilian careers as nurses who will care specifically for other veterans.

Known as Veteran Nurses in Primary Care, the program is funded by a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A program like this did not previously exist in New Jersey or the Delaware Valley. The ideas behind its formation were utilizing the shared experiences of veterans, and helping to prepare veterans for careers as civilians.

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“I recognized a need for health-care services for veterans that would help bridge the relationship between them and the health-care provider,” said Kevin Emmons, a Rutgers School of Nursing clinical associate professor and a U.S. Army veteran, who currently serves as a member of the Army Reserve. He is the director of the new Rutgers–Camden program.

“One of the best ways to do that is by having the health-care provider, and in this case the nurse, be a veteran themselves," Emmons said. "This can instantly build a bond between the veteran client and nurse.”

Donna Nickitas, dean of the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, is a fellow veteran of the U.S. Air Force. She acknowledged having been through the experience of coming home and trying to integrate into society.

“I went right out of active duty in the Air Force to a full-time master’s program in nursing," Nickitas said. "I know what it’s like to be in active-duty service and then be a civilian again.”

The Veterans in Primary Care program will also focus on providing education to community-based, primary-care registered nurses and other clinicians, nursing faculty, and clinical instructors to help meet the needs of veteran clients. 

Veterans participating in the program will have a comprehensive support system to guide and assist them through their studies, including mentors and advisors in the School of Nursing and the university’s Office of Veterans Affairs

Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden students usually perform their clinical rotations in the community and hospital settings. However, through the Veteran Nurses in Primary Care program, students will spend some of their clinical time specifically working with veterans through Rutgers partnerships with area organizations.

Students will learn while working at the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services, Cooper University Hospital, the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, and Volunteers of America’s Home of the Brave program.

Applications are now being accepted for the first group of eight students, who will begin taking classes in the fall semester. Students who are interested in applying to the program should contact Emmons at kremmons@camden.rutgers.edu.

The number of program students will increase to 12 in the second year in fall 2020, and then 18 in the third year.

“Ultimately, our goal is for them to go back into the community and work with veterans after graduation,” Emmons said.

Rutgers–Camden is the only higher education institution in the state to earn the distinction of being named as a Purple Heart University by the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The honor recognizes the university for its services to veterans and their families.   

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