Veterans health course co-director Janet Hale, PhD, (right) is pictured with GSN alum, UMass Memorial Medical Center nurse practitioner and course instructor Michael Spiros, MS, NP. Both are military veterans.

New medical and nursing training seeks to improve military healthcare

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New medical and nursing course aims to improve care of military members and veterans

By Sandra Gray, UMass Medical School Communications,

A new class for medical and nursing students at UMass Medical School focuses on the unique and complex health care needs of Americans who have served their country and invites veterans and members of the military from the UMMS and central MA community to share experiences.

“Understanding cultural perspectives and work experience is important when providing care,” said

course co-founder Janet Hale, PhD, professor and associate director of interprofessional and community partnerships for the Graduate School of Nursing and a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. “Since more than 9 percent of Central Massachusetts residents are veterans, it is crucial that physicians and nurses understand military culture and the impact of military service on health.”

The Military Culture and Health Assessment of Military/Veterans and Families course covers the basics of military culture and its potential impact on health. Students will learn how to ask about military service and take a history from someone who has served or is close to someone who has served in the military, and follow through with appropriate approaches, responses and referrals.

Topics include the incidence and prevalence of health issues, including invisible wounds of war and understanding the challenges of adjusting from combat back to a soldier’s previous life, habits and behaviors. Students will also gain an understanding of how the VA and private health care serve veterans, along with other available community-based resources.

Active duty and veteran military members from the Central Massachusetts along with UMMS faculty, including several who have served in the military, will instruct. Additionally, more than 25 community military members have accepted invitations to attend lunch for informal discussion with the students.

“We think it will be very powerful for the students to hear from faculty and staff who have military experience,” said Linda Cragin, MSW, director of the Massachusetts Area Health Education Centers at Commonwealth Medicine, who co-founded and co-leads the course with Dr. Hale. “The commitment to continued service and support of their brothers and sisters in uniform was clearly visible in the response from veterans, members of the military and their families to spend their time with our students during the busy holiday season. Everyone said yes, and then also referred a friend or family member, or spread the word in their network.”

The veterans and military health course is one of nine required one-day classes for third-year School of Medicine and all Graduate School of Nursing School students. Called the interstitial curriculum, these course address interdisciplinary themes that are broadly significant to medical education and medical practice. Patient and community advocacy is highlighted in each topic area. Small group learning features a variety of workshops, simulations, patient interviews and skills-building sessions.

By Sandra Gray, UMass Medical School Communications,