FSU to create new nursing coursework on military health

Florida State University’s College of Nursing will offer a new graduate-level concentration and certificate next fall focusing on military health, thanks to a three-year, $1.25 million grant from the United Health Foundation.

With course titles such as “visible and non-visible wounds,” “geriatric mental health” and “women in war,” the goal is to better train nurse practitioners to care for military veterans and their families who face unique health challenges, given the nature of their service, said Susan Porterfield, assistant dean of the graduate program at the College of Nursing.

“We’re looking at the culture, we’re looking at sensitive approaches to military families,” Porterfield said.

United Health Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the healthcare company UnitedHealth Group, is providing seed money for the concentration and certificate in a state with a market for medical professionals equipped to treat a military community, said Patricia Horoho, chief executive of OptumServe, which is part of UnitedHealth Group.

Florida has the third largest veteran population in the country, with more than 1.56 million veterans according to the latest projections from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Florida also is one of 36 states where OptumServe manages commercial healthcare providers for the VA Community Care Network, which offers veterans healthcare options outside of VA facilities. As part of this federal contract, the company also oversees providers in Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Since some students at FSU’s College of Nursing may join a practice within the Community Care Network, the new program would expand OptumServe’s training of providers for the network, Horoho said.

After serving 33 years in the U.S. Army, including as the U.S. Army Surgeon General, retired Lt. Gen. Horoho understands the importance of educating commercial healthcare providers with no military background on the holistic impacts that service can have on one’s health.

For instance, clinicians who don’t know a patient is a veteran and potentially exposed to a burn pit while on deployment may not realize that a respiratory illness is service-connected. Having that knowledge could lead the clinician to get the patient evaluated for a disability.

“I think even the simplicity of knowing someone has served and being able to say thank you for your service, there is incredible healing that is just by that recognition,” Horoho said.

As part of the grant funding, the College of Nursing hosted the Military Health Issues Facing Military & Veterans Mental Health Conference on Sept. 25, which drew more than 200 participants, including nurse practitioner students, social workers and representatives from the VA, said Porterfield.

The next conference, also virtual, is planned for June, with a focus on women veterans and their healthcare needs, Porterfield added.

Given the added stressors from the coronavirus pandemic, Porterfield said the new concentration and certificate are coming at the right time to help a community that already deals with major stressors from combat to frequent moves that can disrupt childhoods.

Horoho hopes the FSU initiative is only the start.

“What I would love to see happen from this is that this really becomes that ripple effect of change across our nation, where others — other institutions, other universities, other health practices — all believe and embrace the importance of really understanding the veteran community,” she said.

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