Educating Military Veterans to Become Nurses to Care for Fellow Veterans

By Jeanne Leong

Military veterans share unique experiences such as overseas deployments, a demanding lifestyle, and challenges such as health problems or needing to find a new career when they transition to civilian life.

A new program at Rutgers University–Camden – funded by a three-year, nearly $1.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – will prepare military veterans for civilian careers as nurses who will care specifically for other veterans.

Kevin Emmons

Kevin Emmons

It is the only program of its kind in the Delaware Valley and the state of New Jersey. Veterans understanding veterans and preparing veterans for a career as a civilian is the idea behind the new Rutgers–Camden program, called Veteran Nurses in Primary Care.

“We recognized a need for health-care services for veterans that would help bridge the relationship between them and the health-care provider,” says Kevin Emmons, a Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden clinical associate professor and a U.S. Army veteran who currently serves as a member of the Army Reserve. “One of the best ways to do that is by having the health-care provider, and in this case the nurse, be a veteran themselves. This can instantly build a bond between the veteran client and nurse.”

Dean Donna Nickitas

Dean Donna Nickitas

“I know what it’s like to be separated from family and friends on the holidays, what it is like to come back to school and try to integrate,” says Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden Dean Donna Nickitas, a U.S. Air Force veteran. “I went right out of active duty in the Air Force to a full-time master’s program in nursing. I know what it’s like to be in active-duty service and then be a civilian again.”

The Veterans in Primary Care program will also focus on providing education to community-based primary-care registered nurses and other clinicians, nursing faculty, and clinical instructors to help meet the needs of veteran clients.

Applications are now being accepted for the first cohort of eight students, who will begin taking classes in the fall semester. Students who are interested in applying to the program should contact Emmons at

In the second year of the program in the fall of 2020, the number of students will increase to 12, and will rise to 18 in the third year, for a total of 38 students in three years.

Kevin Emmons serving in Iraq in 2017

Kevin Emmons serving in Iraq in 2017

Veterans participating in this new Rutgers University–Camden program will have a comprehensive support system to guide and assist them through their studies, including mentors and advisors in the School of Nursing and the university’s Office of Veterans Affairs.

Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden students usually perform their clinical rotations in the community and hospital settings, but through the Veteran Nurses in Primary Care program, students will spend some of their clinical time specifically working with veterans through the university’s partnerships with area organizations. Students will learn while working at the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services, Cooper University Hospital, the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, and Volunteers of America’s Home of the Brave program.

“Ultimately, our goal is for them to go back into the community and work with veterans after graduation,” says Emmons, the director of this new Rutgers–Camden program.

Rutgers University–Camden is the only higher education institution in New Jersey to earn the distinction of being named as a Purple Heart University by the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The honor recognizes the university for its services to veterans and their families.


This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $1,493,190.00 with zero percentage financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.

Posted in: Community Outreach

Comments are closed.