United States Military nurses serve the healthcare needs of both military and civilian populations throughout the world. In fact, according to the Military Health System (MHS), military nurses must be prepared to carry out the mission of the MHS “to respond anytime, anywhere with comprehensive medical capability to military operations, natural disasters, and humanitarian causes around the globe, and to ensure delivery of world-class healthcare to all Department of Defense service members, retirees and families.”
As the number of patients rise, their increased acuity levels demand that military nurses be expertly prepared to treat the seriousness of the illnesses and injuries presented. In 2008, the Veteran’s Health Administration began a certification initiative entitled “Let’s Get Certified.” Coupled with salary and recognition incentives, the VHA saw an overwhelming interest in certification. Rollout of Phase II of the program included an invitation from the VHA to the Department of Defense (DoD) to adopt the initiative.
The certification program has allowed military nurses more opportunities for career advancement and cash awards. Unfortunately, in the VHA, only newly certified nurses receive those benefits; positions that obligate certification as a job requirement are not eligible for the incentives.
The VHA’s Office of Nursing Services also offers two national awards – the Certification Development Award and the Certification Achievement Awards — incentives to healthcare facilities to encourage nurses to seek certification. Facilities can earn awards in three categories: the highest number of new certifications, the highest percentage of certified nurses, and the innovative strategies employed to reach the goals.
Awards include plaques, recognition events and cash, with the latter used to support the ideas behind the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Magnet Recognition Program – a program that recognizes nursing excellence in hospitals.
Should a facility desire to participate in the “Let’s Get Certified” campaign for military nurses, the VHA offers a “toolkit,” which can be used to promote certification.
With more than 40,000 nurses working for the VHA system and thousands more in each branch of the U.S. military, the MHS carries more than $211 billion in operating expenses to provide the 8.3 million active military members and 9.3 mill retired military members (and their family members) with healthcare. The nurses in the MHS make up the largest clinical training setting in the world. One in 4 nursing students receive some form of their clinical training in a VHA or DoD setting.
This professional development provides nurses with a greater sense of self and empowerment in their jobs as military nurses. Nurses who feel empowered carry a greater sense of pride in their positions, which increases the likelihood of nurse retention in the profession. Research also shows that a nursing workforce that achieves certification in its specialized field positively impacts patients’ clinical outcomes and patient safety.