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portia wofford rn to bsn career

One of the most coveted nursing jobs is working for The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). With over 9 million Veterans enrolled in the VA health care program, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States. According to Va.gov, the VHA provides care at 1,255 healthcare facilities, including 170 VA Medical Centers and 1,074 outpatient sites. They provide a wide range of services, including:

  • Surgery
  • Critical care
  • Mental health
  • Orthopedics
  • Pathology 
  • Dermatology
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Urology
  • Drug and alcohol treatment

Nurses employed at VA hospitals are a part of the Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs). They care for active and retired military personnel and — if benefits allow— their families.

How to get a job with the VA

As part of PACTs, nurses work with veterans’ interdisciplinary teams and work collaboratively across treatment settings. According to VA Careers, the VA hires nurses with a variety of specialties and skills:

  • Registered Nurses
  • Clinical Nurse Specialists
  • Nurse AnesthetistsNursing Assistants
  • Travel Nurses
  • Nurse Executives
  • Psychiatric Nurses
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Licensed Practical / Vocational Nurses

While civilian and military nurses can apply for the same jobs, the process is different. Military applicants use a separate application and speak with a specific human resources representative. There are also some jobs not open to the public, and a job listing will specify jobs open to the public. 

Additionally, the process may take longer than a traditional job. Because these jobs are government jobs, nurses must go through more background checks and clearance. Basic eligibility includes:

  • United States citizen
  • Graduate of an approved/accredited program
  • Current, full, active, unrestricted license as a professional nurse in any state, commonwealth, territory of the U.S. or the District of Columbia
  • Must be proficient in English

While these are the basic eligibility requirements, specific job postings describe the minimum qualification and specialized experience required for each position. Then, your experience and education are evaluated against stated to determine if you are “highly qualified,” “basically qualified,” or “not qualified.” These are known as selective factors or KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities).

According to nurse.org, in addition to the above requirements, nurses need to meet the following criteria:

  • Pass pre-employment exams
  • Pass designated and/or random drug tests
  • Background and/or security investigation required
  • A probationary period may be required 
  • Males born after December 31, 1959, must register for the Selective Service
  • Some applicants will be required to complete an online onboarding process

Nursing positions are graded based on needs. There are three grades. Each grade has a specific education and experience requirements.

  1. Nurse I Level I – An Associate Degree (ADN) or Diploma in Nursing, with no additional nursing experience.
  2. Nurse I Level II – An ADN or Diploma in Nursing and approximately one year of experience; OR an ADN or Diploma in Nursing and a bachelor’s degree in a related field with no additional experience; OR a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) with no additional experience.
  3. Nurse I Level III – ADN or Diploma in Nursing and approximately 2-3 years of experience, or an ADN or Diploma in Nursing and a bachelor’s degree in a related field and approximately 1-2 years of experience; or a BSN with approximately 1-2 years of experience, or a Master’s degree in nursing (MSN) or related field with a BSN and no experience.
  4. Nurse II – A BSN with approximately 2-3 years of experience; OR ADN or Diploma in Nursing and a Bachelor’s degree in a related field and approximately 2-3 years of experience; OR a Master’s degree in nursing or related field with a BSN and approximately 1-2 years of experience; OR a Doctoral degree in nursing or meets basic requirements for appointment and has a doctoral degree in a related field with no additional experience.
  5. Nurse III – Master’s degree in nursing or related field with BSN and approximately 2-3 years of experience; OR a Doctoral degree in nursing or related field and approximately 2-3 years of experience.

What’s the process?

  1. Create an account with login.gov
  2. Create a USAJOBS profile- Upload and save your resume or create your resume. You can also upload and save the required documents.
  3. Search for jobs- Start your search by typing in a keyword. You can also save your search.
  4. Review job announcements- The job announcement lays out eligibility requirements and specific qualifications. The listing will also specify the required documents. 
  5. Prepare your application
  6. Submit your application- Before submitting, be sure you’ve provided all information, documentation, and answered eligibility questions. 
  7. Agency reviews applications.
  8. Interview- The highest qualified applicants will interview based on agency policy. There may be more than one interview round.
  9. Agency selects a candidate.
  10. Job offer- Note a job offer is not final until the agency completes the background investigation and additional security checks. The agency will contact you directly to set up a start date. 

Benefits

According to the VA’s 20 Reasons Nurses Love for the Veterans Health Administration, nurses “experience exceptional opportunities for career development” while with the VA. 

  • Career advancement and promotions based on performance
  • Support for training, continuing education & degrees.
  • Scholarships, tuition reimbursement programs, educational opportunities that support continuing education
  • Funding for advancing your formal education
  • Excellent work-life balance- 26 days of annual leave; 13 days of sick leave; 10 paid federal holidays; Ability to carry over up to 685 hours of accrued leave annually.  
  • Opportunity to practice in different settings
  • Practice anywhere in the country- Your specific state license is valid in all 50 states and any VA territory.
  • Federal retirement plan
  • Federal employee health benefits
  • Federal employee dental and vision benefits
  • Thrift savings plan
  • Flexible schedules
  • Guaranteed shifts

“I’ve been at the VA for 13 years,” Nurse Myna J. Shegog BSN, RN SANE-A, tells Aspen University. “I enjoy the environment and the honor given to those who have served in the military. I see some areas that desperately need improvement, such as services for women Veterans, but overall it’s a good experience. The benefits are outstanding.” 

She adds, “As a nurse, I get:

  • Six weeks of paid vacation, every year
  • Federal holidays and sick days
  • Overtime and on-call pay for any call hours (The on-call pay is higher than any other eight community hospitals in this county.)
  • Government employee discounts on purchases
  • Discounts on hotels and cars when traveling with my family.”

Salary

The salary is dependent upon the grade of the job, position, and location. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for an RN employed with the VA is $79,419. In addition to excellent benefits and pay, many VA hospitals and facilities are designated VHA Magnet and Pathway facilities. View the list here.

If you want to serve our country, consider working for the VA and care for the brave men and women who served our country.

 

Portia Wofford is an award-winning nurse, writer, and digital marketer. After dedicating her nursing career to creating content and solutions for employers that affected patient outcomes, these days, Portia empowers health-related businesses to grow their communities through engaging content that connects and converts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.

 


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