As Acting Chief Nursing Officer for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Beth Taylor, DHA RN, NEA-BC, provides executive leadership and strategic direction for the Office of Nursing Services. She also advises the Under Secretary for Health on nursing issues that impact the 100,000 VA nursing personnel nationwide who care for Veterans. Taylor has served the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) since 1996, when she joined the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan, as Associate Director for Patient Care Services/Nurse Executive. Taylor assumed her current position, which is based at VA’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, on April 2, 2018.
In honor of national #NursesWeek 2019, Taylor describes her role in nursing at VA, explains the benefits of VA nursing careers and why VA celebrates nurses.
How long have you served at VA and in what roles?
I joined VA as a Nurse Executive in 1996 and served in a VA hospital in Michigan. I worked in two VA facilities within the state of Michigan, in Saginaw and Detroit. I’ve had the opportunity over the years to serve as a Nurse Executive in a variety of different stations, including in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Tucson, Arizona; and twice in Washington, D.C., for the Office of Nursing Services. This is my second time working for the Office of Nursing Services. One consistent aspect of our work — regardless of where we serve as nurses or nurse executives — is ensuring that we provide the highest quality of care to our Veterans, and we pay attention to the Veteran experience.
Why did you choose a career at VA?
I worked in the private sector for many years. I decided to pursue a career in VA for two reasons. One, I’m proud to say I come from a very long line of Veterans in my family and was the first generation not to serve in the military. And so, I looked at this as an opportunity to provide my service to our nation. The other reason is that I was recruited by another chief nursing officer at VA who was retiring. She talked to me about the great opportunities here and the wonderful mission of VA. She was right, and I stayed for the next 20-some years.
What are your reasons for celebrating the nurses you lead and serve with at VA?
VA nurses touch our Veterans’ lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We’re one of the professions that is present during administrative hours and throughout all the nonadministrative hours. When you think about it, that’s when the majority of healthcare for our inpatients and our long-term care residents is provided.
When you look at the quality outcomes for our health system, VA nurses make such a strong contribution to improving the health of our Veterans. They are by the bedside providing not only the clinical expertise and knowledge, but also that human compassion that ensures that our Veterans are not only receiving quality healthcare but they’re also comfortable, and they know there’s somebody there who cares for them and is watching over them. I think that’s what makes nurses so special and certainly our VA nurses exemplify that aspect of our profession.
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is, of course, knowing that I’m serving our nation’s heroes. There’s no better mission than the one that we have and no better patient population than the one that we serve. It’s truly an honor every day.
We are the largest nursing corps in the United States — possibly the world. And so, the second joy is knowing that I am supporting the nearly 100,000-strong nursing corps that is VA. Through the examination of the policies and being the clinical and leadership voice on various committees, I want to make sure that nursing is represented and that we make it easier for nurses to do.
Coming to work every day, my goal is to make it easier for the nurses to do a great job in meeting the mission and taking care of the patients every day.
What are one or two areas you plan to focus on in leading VA’s nurses over the next year or two?
As within the larger healthcare industry, we have a growing percentage of the RN population that is over age 50 and a shrinking percentage that is under age 30, which is a real concern. We have a mission of ensuring the next generation of workforce through our training programs, and we focus on how we can bring new undergraduate and graduate nurses. We also want to transfer the great knowledge and experience of our senior nurses to our newer nurses.
Why should nurses starting out in their careers take a closer look at VA?
In my experience, VA is the richest employer in terms of the scholarship opportunities that we offer nurses — not only scholarships on the front end, which help pay their tuition through the program that they are interested in pursuing but also through the Education Debt Reduction Program that allows us to offset college debt. We have an opportunity to offset some debt for people who have completed their degrees already and are employed at VA in key positions.
What are some other ways that VA supports nurses and nursing careers?
One mechanism we use to promote nursing is the nursing residency program, which invites nurses in training to work at VA. Another way is by looking at our pay structure and ensuring that we’re competitive. We also look at scholarship opportunities and make sure that we have plenty of opportunities to grow nurses, whether folks come in as nursing assistants and advance to become Advanced Practice Nurses or RNs. We need to have those career paths in place so we can have a strong and well-prepared workforce for the future.
What are the career paths for nurses at VA?
There are so many different avenues in which you can take your nursing career at VA. You can pursue continuing education. You can pursue graduate education and become a provider. You can pursue becoming a nurse researcher — we have many nurses who work in research and contribute to knowledge, best practices and clinical leadership practices. So, there’s a variety of different avenues that you can take at VA. We have facilities in all 50 states so you can go anywhere as a VA nurse and continue serving the mission.
Choose VA today