Veterans' care an 'honored' priority for BYU nursing students


Stoicism is a timeless virtue for men and women in uniform. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines learn two principles when facing a problem: First, no whining. And second, suck it up and deal with it.

Such concepts work well in the armed forces — but they can be obstacles when a military veteran is a patient receiving medical care.

“Sometimes it’s hard for a veteran to admit they are in pain or to tell a nurse that he or she is having challenges,” said Ron Ulberg, a professor at BYU’s College of Nursing.

Ulberg and his fellow BYU nursing professor Kent Blad could aptly be called “bilingual” — they’re fluent in both nurse- and soldier-speak. Both men are nurses and military veterans. So they understand, first-hand, the unique culture nurses sometimes face when trying to provide the best care possible to a veteran-patient.

To help their students, Ulberg and Blad created a first-of-its kind “veterans care” course at the Church-owned school. The class has become a template followed by nursing schools across the country.

BYU nursing students are required to take a course called Advanced Public and Global Health. It’s designed to offer a richer understanding of the vast array of people the future nurses will care for during their careers. Many students opt to enroll in the course’s “veterans section” to sharpen their skills in caring for patients who have, say, experienced combat or spent much of their lives in a military environment.

“The course has helped me learn how to talk to veterans when I’m caring for them,” said Abby Henrie, a BYU senior who is utilizing her training at a community veteran’s home and at a Utah Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital.

Now when a veteran-patient tells Henrie that his or her pain “is about the same as always,” she knows to ask a follow-up question or two. Often she gains a clearer understanding of how her patient is actually feeling.

Simply asking a new patient if he or she is veteran — and then asking about when and where they served — can build essential trust, leading to improved care.

“The motto of our college is ‘To know them is to care for them better’,” said Blad.

BYU has shared its “veteran section” teaching materials, student assignments and other curriculum with several other schools and nursing school associations. It’s hoped the information will result in better veterans care across the United States and beyond.

“All nurses will care for veterans at some point, no matter where they work,” said Blad.

Healing’s spiritual element is emphasized at BYU’s nursing school, said Blad. Jesus Christ, of course, is often called the Healer. He treated the physical, emotional and spiritual afflictions of those he served. The Lord also cared for military personnel. He healed the centurion’s servant and the soldier whose ear was severed by Peter.

BYU’s College of Nursing’s connection to military veterans stretches beyond the classroom and clinic. For several years, students such as Henrie have accompanied military veterans on Honor Flights to Washington, D.C., to visit war memorials and connect with fellow vets.

About 1,200 veterans from Utah have participated in the Honor Flight over the past several years.

“The program gives us a chance to really honor these veterans for their service,” said Ulberg, who was preparing for another Honor Flight during the Veterans Day weekend.

Henrie’s grandfather fought in World War II, so accompanying a Korean War veteran to the capital city for a recent Honor Flight made for a priceless memory. She watched as strangers came forward to shake the war veteran’s hand and express their thanks. She witnessed the brotherhood shared by those who had served.

Such images remain with Henrie as she performs her daily nursing duties.

“Before, when I would see a veteran out on the street, I was sometimes nervous to approach them,” she said. “But now I let them know I appreciate what they’ve done — and most are happy to talk.”

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