Personal and Professional Transition From Military to Civilian Nursing Practice

Sunday, 30 July 2017: 8:30 AM

Brenda Elliott, PhD, RN
Division of Nursing and Health Sciences, Wilson College, Chambersburg, PA, USA
Katie A. Chargualaf, PhD, RN, CMSRN
Ila Faye Miller School of Nursing and Health Professions, University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, TX, USA
Barbara J. Patterson, PhD
School of Nursing, Widener University, Chester, PA, USA

Purpose: The purpose of this presentation is to discuss the military nurse officer’s transition from nursing practice in a military setting to a civilian setting.

Methods:  Naturalistic inquiry paradigm, qualitative description was used to guide this study. The investigators interviewed 10 nurse Veterans from the United States who served a minimum of four years active duty and at least one year in a civilian clinical nursing role, after separation from active duty status. Semi-structured interviews started with an open-ended question asking participants to describe their transition from military nursing to civilian nursing practice. They were also asked to identify any challenges or facilitators to the process. Clarifying and probing questions were used to gain an understanding of the transition. Data analysis occurred simultaneously with data collection and inductive coding to identify patterns was used during data analysis. Data were collected until saturation was reached.

Results: Results suggest that nurses leaving military nursing practice and entering civilian nursing practice progress through four major phase: Separating from Military Life, Conflict and Chaos, Shifting Sands, and Personal and Professional Reconstruction. Findings also suggest that these nurses go through two transitions simultaneously. One is in their professional role and one in their personal identity, which can complicate progress through each phase. With the passage of time, nurse Veterans do undergo a transition to a new identity and professional practice, but aspects of the military culture will always remain a part of who they are. Particularly challenging to the transition was the perception that the skills and leadership experiences garnered from their military service did not translate to civilian practice and a temporary state of chaos, resulting from feelings of grief associated with a loss of the military "lifestyle," often occurs. Exit counseling, anticipatory support resources, and confiding in family or other Veterans were identified as facilitators of transition.

Conclusion: Globally, military nurses bring significant value from their military experiences to the civilian sector. However, their transition could potentially take longer due to challenges in the civilian healthcare context and differences between military and civilian cultures. Healthcare organizations need to examine strategies to help assist these nurses throughout the transition process. Having some understanding of the challenges these nurses may face, potential issues that could surface, and ways to utilize their strengths may aid in a smoother transition as well as promote personal and professional growth.