Understanding the Experiences of Veterans Enrolled in Prelicensure Nursing Programs in the United States

Sunday, 30 July 2017: 8:50 AM

Teresa Shellenbarger, PhD
Department of Nursing and Allied Health Professions, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA, USA
Julie L. Decker, DNP
School of Nursing, The Pennsylvania State University, Altoona, PA, USA

Purpose:  Following military discharge many veterans return to colleges and universities for further education (Allen, Armstrong, Saladiner, Hamilton, & Conrad, 2014; Ness, Rocke, Harrist, & Vroman, 2014). With financial benefits for veterans and job opportunities available for graduates, the number of veterans enrolling in higher education in the United States continues to remains strong (Cate, 2014). However, little information is available to assist educators to meet the unique needs that veterans returning to school may have (Graf, Ysasi, & Marini, 2015; Jones, 2013; Naphan & Elliott, 2015). Therefore, nursing faculty are challenged to assist these students as they transition to professional nursing roles with little empirical data to guide their work. Given the paucity of research available, a hermeneutic phenomenological study was conducted to fully understand the experiences of veterans enrolled in prelicensure nursing programs in the United States.

Methods:  A purposive sample of nine students enrolled in associate and baccalaureate degree nursing programs was recruited through professional colleagues and personal networking/referrals using purposive sampling. After explaining the study, a member of the research team obtained informed consent. Informants then participated in audiotaped interviews which were then transcribed verbatim. A 5-step process guided data analysis. To ensure data quality peer debriefing, data triangulation, and member checking was used to validate the themes.

Results:  Findings emerging from the interviews with veteran nursing students revealed four themes. Informants described maneuvering through the mental mind shift, battling conflicting forces, avoiding landmines, and accepting support. Students described feeling lost and adrift as they transitioned from structured military life with their comrade community to the isolated foreign much more fluid landscape of higher education with different rules and norms. Informants described needing to reset their compass as they navigated through this unfamiliar territory. As they return to school the veteran nursing students encountered disparities with classmates and battled generational and professional differences. Additional battles emerge as the student veteran confronted financial, academic, psychological, and personal struggles. These students needed to learn to avoid potential landmines that could adversely affect their educational experience. In spite of encountering multiple obstacles, supportive faculty, diverse teaching and learning methods, and open communication with others provided the needed support that helped the student survive the educational experience.

Conclusion: Based upon these findings, recommendations for faculty and campus communities to support these students are suggested. Nursing faculty need to employ watchfulness, use appropriate communication, make referrals, and customize interventions based on specific needs of the veteran. These findings provide useful guidance in the development of evidence-based approaches that can be implemented to allow veterans to successfully navigate the higher education environment and emerge as professional nurses.