Seniors Sarah Dickerman, Ashley Ross and Zaineh Khalil, all of whom attend UCF College of Nursing, graduated from the Veterans Affairs Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) program in April. The Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center (OVAMC) began offering the competitive, nationwide VALOR program in 2008-2009 for the first time in recent years with three UCF nursing students.

“A lot of nurses tell us in clinical that when you get on the floor, it’s a lot different than what the textbooks tell us. This opportunity showed us exactly that and taught us how to adapt to these differences while remaining true to the nursing profession,” Khalil notes on her experience.

The program is an intensive, year-long residency where senior BSN nursing students receive hands-on clinical experience in a VA health care facility. After orientation and training, the students focus their work in the Primary and Ambulatory Surgical Care units and the Community Living Center, with the occasional opportunity to observe in other units to learn and practice various procedures.

“I feel that my experiences at the VA will make the transition from a student nurse to a registered nurse much smoother. I have gained a lot of confidence, both professionally and personally, and I have a much better understanding of the nursing profession,” Ross comments.

Selected students essentially become a part of the OVAMC health care team, performing many of the facility’s daily tasks. These range from duties such as completing admission assessments and evaluation reports to more direct patient care which involves conducting EKGs and prepping patients for ambulatory surgery. To aid the learning process, each student works with a qualified RN preceptor who acts as an adviser and guide.

Dickerman, like Ross and Khalil, also gained valuable experience from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I’m glad I made the decision to participate. It opened up an avenue of nursing that I hadn’t considered prior to the program, showing me not only basic nursing skills, but a thorough, well-rounded perspective of all that nursing entails. My experiences solidify the fact that I’m going to love being a nurse,” she smiles.

To graduate, the trio presented their special project, “Universal Protocol & Provider Communication: Safety First” to nursing administration and management at OVAMC. The project explored evidence-based methods to improve patient safety by preventing wrong site, wrong procedure and wrong person surgery, along with best-practice recommendations on improving caregiver-patient and interdisciplinary health care communication.

Thirteen UCF students have applied for the three coveted spots for 2009-2010, which commences this summer.