May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, and that means it’s time to recognize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) career professionals who make up one of the largest hepatitis C care providers in the country. More than 2.4 million Americans live with hepatitis C, a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no vaccine, but early detection and treatment are highly effective. VA is successfully working to reduce infection rates among the Veteran population through innovative care practices that combine prevention and treatment with new, advanced therapies.
Dana Smothers, MSN, the Hepatology Nurse Care Coordinator at VA Portland Health Care System, is part of VA’s healthcare team treating Veterans with hepatitis C. Smothers has seen the number of Veterans nationwide with hepatitis C decrease from 180,000 infected in 2011 to 71,800 infected as of September 2016.
In this installment of our #ChooseVA Careers blog series, Smothers discusses her role as a Nurse Care Coordinator at VA and the deeply rewarding nature of her job.
What is your primary job at VA?
My primary job at VA is as the Hepatology Nurse Care Coordinator, where I also coordinate Portland VA hepatology transplant referrals, manage the national registry that links Veterans to advanced liver disease care, conduct population health outreach and champion VA Video Connect, which is allowing us to treat Veterans hundreds of miles away in southern Oregon. I’m also the new metabolic clinic coordinator.
In addition to my MSN, I am a certified Clinical Nurse Leader, which brings with it the skills of clinician, educator, outcomes specialist, quality/evaluation and process improvement. All of these skills are essential to creating care pathways that are meaningful to Veterans, solving problems where there are barriers to care or inefficiencies, and providing a quality experience for the Veterans that trust us with their care.
What was appealing about a career at VA?
Because VA is such a large system, there’s not only strong support for the Clinical Nurse Leader role, but there are diverse opportunities for nurses. In fact, my VA is a Magnet-designated hospital, one of the highest distinctions a healthcare organization can receive for nursing excellence and high-quality patient care from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Only about 8% of hospitals are Magnet-designated.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Facilitating Veterans through their care trajectory and exceeding their expectations. When a Veteran feels seen and heard, you can feel it. I also appreciate the autonomy and leadership support I receive.
How has VA helped you grow your career?
VA has offered me national and local training and leadership opportunity as co-chair of the Unit Based Council, which is comprised of nurses who are conducting process improvements and nurse and management engagement activities. Leadership and fellow team members have allowed for innovation within my role, collaboration with interdisciplinary teams and LEAN training.
What are a few key benefits of working with VA?
Some of the amazing benefits we receive at VA are separate accrual of vacation leave and sick leave — there isn’t just one pot of leave like at other organizations. Retirement benefits are also fairly robust. We also get federal holidays and are affiliated with a teaching and research hospital.
What do you find most surprising about working at VA?
The fact that VA is so far ahead of private healthcare systems on hepatitis C treatment and innovation in care delivery, and also in treating advanced liver disease. Additionally, the culture of excellence and quality care offered at VA goes beyond most people’s expectations.
Then, there’s the heartfelt gratitude of the Veterans and the strong sense of community here. It makes for a truly rewarding career.
What would you tell other healthcare professionals who are interested in choosing a career at VA?
VA is a mission-driven and evidence-based organization that makes it easy to connect with peers across the nation.
I love my job. I work with the most amazing team built on trust, mutual respect and support. I have the most amazing co-workers who are truly dedicated to our shared vision of providing the best health care available anywhere!
Choose VA today
Lead the delivery of healthcare to the nation’s Veterans: Choose a career as a Nurse Care Coordinator at VA.