For more than 28 years, David E. Murray, MSN, RN, APN, NE-BC, has worked at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), most recently as Associate Director Patient Care Services/Nurse Executive at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, a position he’s held for three years. Murray, a retired lieutenant colonel, is a combat Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Murray provides nurse leadership in collaboration with other disciplines to improve Veterans’ care at the Wisconsin hospital. In this installment of our #ChooseVALeadership Careers and as VA prepares to attend the American Organization of Nurse Executives annual meeting in April (find us at booth 132), Murray explains his role as nurse leader and why he chose a VA career.
What is your primary job at VA?
I provide executive leadership and complex managerial and administrative tasks that impact critical healthcare issues and the activities that influence the organizational mission, healthcare and policy. My leadership has helped develop a professional practice environment that fosters excellence in nursing services, evidence-based practice, staff recruitment and retention, nursing research and scholarly inquiry, and customer satisfaction.
Describe your specialties and how you apply these skills in the care you provide to Veterans.
As a Nurse Executive, I help guide policy, mentor my Service Chiefs and Managers, and work with the executive team to make the Madison VA the best place to work and the best place for Veterans to receive care.
What was appealing about a career at VA?
I was already serving in the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a medic and a career as a nurse caring for Veterans seemed like a logical fit. Before I finished nursing school, I had a final clinical at the Madison VA and was hired before I had graduated.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
That becomes a twofold answer. I am honored to lead a Nursing Service that provides exemplary care to our Veterans, which is clear from the positive comments we receive in the Director’s office and from the Veterans we meet when we do unit rounding. The other rewarding part is watching our nursing staff grow from novice to expert and embrace shared decision making as they become part of our facility-based nursing practice council.
How has VA helped you grow in your career?
I’ve received numerous opportunities to grow throughout my career with VA, including preceptor (instructor) opportunities as a new graduate, leadership courses at the local level and Veterans Integrated Service Network-wide leadership training. As I delved into my new role as Nurse Executive, the VA Office of Nursing Services paired me with a mentor from a similarly sized facility and established monthly mentoring calls. Within the first year, I received the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) New Executive Training (NExT) orientation with peers from across VA. VA’s annual Nurse Executive Conference is partnered with the annual Chief of Staff Conference, where we receive timely information from subject matter experts from VHA and VA Central Office. (Learn more about leadership opportunities for VA nurses in the brochure PDF.)
What are a few key benefits of working at VA?
Working for VA provides a plethora of benefits that only increase in value as the years go by. Nursing receives up to five weeks of annual leave starting on day one, along with 13 sick days and 10 federal holidays. You can also participate in the Thrift Savings Plan — the government’s 401(k) — where VA will match up to the first 5 percent of contributions. This is paired with a pension plan that, once vested in five years, will help you plan for retirement. VA nursing careers also have unique ladders for promotions and salary increases not often seen in other healthcare organizations.
What do you find most surprising about working at VA?
In my current role I often spend some upfront time with the new nursing hires. Although many admit they worried about coming to work for VA, once they started orientation, spent time with the Veterans and truly understood our mission, they fell in love with their new role.
What story do you most often tell people about your work?
Since 2004, we have been a Magnet facility, which is an American Nurses Credentialing Center designation indicating that our facility is committed to excellence in healthcare and support for our nurses. Even as we work on our second redesignation, our work is never done, and we do not claim to be a perfect facility. We always seek ways to support VA nurses as they lead evidence-based practice projects and make improvements that lead to great Veteran and staff experiences.
What would you tell other nurse leaders interested in choosing a career at VA?
The mission of VA is noble and, once you start working with Veterans, this is a career that becomes endearing. Veterans are so thankful for the care they receive, and they partner with you to improve their overall healthcare experience.
What else would you like us to know about your work?
The opportunities are endless for nurses coming to VA — I have had six distinctly different roles throughout my career at the Madison VA, each with its own unique challenges and rewards. I tell staff to always be prepared for whatever the next opportunity may be. Even if they are not thinking of changing roles, I still encourage VA nurses to take the courses, get the next level of education and be prepared for opportunities as they arise.