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Phoenix Forward

Rewarding nursing careers: Working at the VA

VA nursing careers offer opportunities unavailable elsewhere

Demand for nurses is at an all-time high and they can often pick and choose their employers and career paths, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. When many private sector employers are paying top dollar for nurses, what is the motivation for them to accept lower salaries to work for the Veterans’ Administration?  According to two VA nurses we interviewed who are also University of Phoenix alumni and instructors, the rewards of a VA nursing career can be great.

Opportunities for growth

Liz Calabro, RN, MSN, who obtained her Master of Science in Nursing from University of Phoenix in 1994, is a clinical psychiatric nurse manager with more than 30 years’ experience, working full-time at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System (hospital) acute psychiatric unit.

“My main role at the VA is to be a manager and leader, to encourage professional growth [of the nurses],” says Calabro. “I assisted in the development of the acute psychiatric unit. I provided education for the nurses to lead psychotherapy groups and educational groups for the patients. There are lots of professional development opportunities for nurses at the VA that simply don’t exist elsewhere.”

The most rewarding aspect of my job is, I get to give back to our veterans who have literally risked their lives to keep us safe.

In addition to the wealth of clinical and professional development opportunities, Calabro also appreciates the stability and fringe benefits of a VA nursing career. “We have good job security,” she says. “And our benefits cannot be matched anywhere.”

But that’s still not the clincher for Calabro. “The most rewarding aspect of my job is, I get to give back to our veterans who have literally risked their lives to keep us safe,” she says. Many of these veterans struggle with major depression and related post-traumatic stress disorder following their service to our country, and Calabro feels a personal responsibility to help them.

A wonderful fit

Not all VA nursing positions are in the hospital setting, however. Mary Kehoe, RN, MSN, FNP-BC, DHA, is a nurse practitioner in an outpatient VA setting in northern Alabama, providing primary care to a panel of 800 veteran outpatients, including many women. After working as a nurse and then as a solo nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health, Kehoe wanted a change.

“I realized that I wanted to be a nurse practitioner in a large organization, and that’s how I landed at the VA,” says Kehoe, who earned her Doctor of Health Administration from University of Phoenix in 2008. “In the 1990s, the VA shifted its focus from inpatient to outpatient, and that created opportunities for nurse practitioners (NPs). It’s a wonderful fit for me.”

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