Continuous learning is an essential component of providing top-notch healthcare for Veterans. At the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), employees are strongly encouraged to pursue their higher education goals through a variety of scholarships.
Meg Summey is one such beneficiary, having received the VA National Nursing Education Initiative (NNEI) scholarship while pursuing a master’s degree at the University of North Carolina. Now, as Staff Development Specialist at Durham VA Health Care System, one of her responsibilities is helping other VA employees apply for the scholarship program. Summey said NNEI assisted her in balancing a VA workload with the demands of a graduate program.
In this installment of our #ChooseVA Careers blog series, Summey shares her views on VA’s education support programs and why healthcare professionals should choose a VA career.
What is your primary job at VA?
My primary responsibility is to coordinate monthly nursing orientation. We have about 900 staff in the nursing service. I haven’t oriented all of them at once, of course, but I do coordinate their orientation training. That includes coordinating nursing orientation and all the subject matter experts who help teach it.
I’m also coordinator of our CPR program, involving about 2,500 employees. I also help with the scholarship program, meeting with interested employees, mentoring them and guiding them through the scholarship application process
What was appealing about a career at VA?
I was first a staff nurse in the surgical intensive care unit. I came to VA so I could go to grad school. I was a supervisor in my previous job and knew I would not be successful if I continued in that role while attending grad school. I started as a staff nurse in May 1999 and then I applied to grad school. Because I started grad school so soon after starting at VA, I didn’t yet qualify for a scholarship; you had to be employed for at least a year. I had to pay for the first semester on my own, but then I was able to apply for NNEI to help pay for books, fees and tuition. Being able to apply for a scholarship allowed me to work part time so that I could take two courses at a time and not have to work full time.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The opportunity to mentor new staff and to help them make the transition as a new employee. I know it’s not easy to navigate a large healthcare system. I do take joy in helping people navigate whatever systems challenges they have, whether it’s with renewing their CPR or being a new employee or even navigating the scholarship program.
How did you hear about the scholarship program?
After I started working at VA, Gwen Waddell-Schultz, the Chief Nurse for Education and Medicine at Durham VA Health Care System, mentioned the scholarship program and encouraged me to apply.
What school and program did you decide to pursue with your scholarship funds?
I went to University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. I pursued a Master of Science in Nursing and Healthcare Systems, with a focus in informatics. Nursing informatics uses data and systems to help nurses get work done. This degree helped me understand that value of a systems-based approach to challenges and opportunities.
In what ways did the scholarship help you complete your training?
I was able to work part time instead of full time, which was a huge benefit. I told my husband, without a scholarship, I was going to have to work part time, and we’d have to get by on hot dogs and mac and cheese for a few years.
What would you tell other healthcare professionals who are interested in choosing a career at VA?
I would say that it’s an honor and a privilege to work with Veterans and staff that provide direct care. My niece is a Veteran, her husband is a Veteran and my great nephew is now in basic training. And I think to myself, they could be in one of these clinics or hospital rooms. Everyone deserves to get care from staff who are at their best and have all the knowledge and tools that they deserve.
Choose VA today
Provide nursing care to Veterans while advancing your education with VA’s NNEI scholarship. See if a VA career in nursing is right for you.