VHA Innovation Ecosystem and Office of Nursing Services are proud to celebrate the Year of the Nurse by highlighting a unique nurse-led innovation, or promising practice, each month for the remainder of 2020. With over 80,000 nurses throughout the VA health system, we are the largest employer of nurses in the nation. This month, we introduce diffusion champion, Sherry Cox, from the Birmingham VA Medical Center.

It seems you hear “I always knew that I wanted to become a nurse” frequently from Veteran nurses.

Nurse Sherry Cox

Sherry Cox’s story is no different. She always knew she wanted to be a nurse. Her family supported her plan. What she didn’t know is that after 30 years of serving in the United States Air Force (rising to the rank of Colonel), she would become a nurse for VA and a diffusion champion.

Cox’s work with Diffusion of Excellence focuses on reducing Veteran opioid dependence. “To be part of the process to assist a Veteran who has been taking opioids for 30 years begin to realize there are other options to control their pain aside from a pill, has truly been transformational,” she said.

She also cited VA’s whole health approach as key to Veteran success.

Opioid related deaths a major challenge

COVID-19 has presented Cox’s team with another challenge. Opioid related deaths have skyrocketed nationally, necessitating a need to continue shared medical appointments for Veterans reliant on opioids.

“Due to the pandemic, our interdisciplinary team needed to change our process of conducting in-person sessions to virtual sessions,” Cox said. “Our team never imagined the positive impact our virtual sessions would have in maintaining and strengthening connections with our Veterans.

“Since the start of the pandemic, several of our Veterans have shared feeling isolated and alone. That includes a few reporting they had not been out of their house for months.

“The key to developing and diffusing promising practices? Perhaps it’s nurses themselves. I believe nurses are problem solvers at heart. My role as a VA nurse helping to assist Veterans, lead teams and spread our practice nationally has been some of the most purposeful and inspirational work I have done in my nursing career.”

Thank you, Nurse Cox, for being a nurse leader and diffusion champion. Celebrate the Year of the Nurse and follow her story all month on Facebook and Twitter.


Allison Amrhein is director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network (iNET).                                      

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