What happens when military service ends? The transition to civilian life after a military career can be overwhelming and bring specific difficulties. A recent study on the experience of military veterans in nursing programs shows that adjusting to life on campus is challenging, but with a stable support system veterans can draw on a range of unique skills to help them succeed in school.
By Kelly L. Dyar
An increasing number of American military veterans enroll in colleges and universities. After noticing that veterans sometimes struggled as students, Dr. Kelly Dyar, a nursing instructor and military mother from the University of West Georgia, decided to investigate the experiences of veterans in a traditionally female-dominated discipline – nursing.
This relationship might just be of particular societal interest since more male nurses are needed to increase the diversity of the profession. Military veterans, who are predominantly male, could be a good source from which to recruit future nurses. However, so far the research literature on veterans in nursing programs has been scarce.
Dyar’s dissertation thesis, recently presented in the International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, included seven male combat veterans from throughout the U.S. who were focused on completing nursing school. With the help of interviews and the gathering of photographs that served to represent their experiences, the study aimed to identify the strengths, challenges and support systems of these veterans in school.
Focus and discipline, but also stigma and stereotypes
All participants claimed that the perspective gained by military service and combat helped them to remain focused and deal with the challenges of attending nursing school. In that regard, leadership and time management skills, as well as discipline and accountability, were mentioned as their main strengths.
While viewing themselves as “honorable”, the study participants also expressed a desire to be seen as more than just veterans. They described the adjustment to the new environment of being on a college campus and struggling with their military personality as the main barriers on their new career path.
Frustrations arose from feeling stigmatized and stereotyped by peers and faculty members – for example, the assumption that all veterans suffer from mental illness or are prone to violence. The veterans also were frustrated by inconsistencies in how school policies were applied and a lack of discipline and engagement in their class peers.
Typical emotions the student veterans experienced at school included feelings of isolation and competition, but also great respect for their teachers.
Support is crucial
The main sources of support in helping the student veterans remain focused and achieve success were identified as relationships, access to their teachers, opportunities to practice what they were learning, and the routine and structure found in nursing school. This structure included the high standards that were expected to be admitted to, and to remain in the program.
Since the number of veterans on college campuses is increasing, each college classroom could now include a veteran. Although they may struggle as a result of some of the challenges described, veterans also bring unique skills and experiences that can help them succeed. Dr. Dyar believes that maximizing available support can help all students, including veterans, achieve their objectives. She comments: “It was an honor to hear and tell the stories of these men who served our country and have returned home to serve as future nurses.”
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