California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Good Neighbors: CSULB and VA Medical Center

Published: November 3, 2015

CSULB’s location adjacent to the Veterans Administration Medical Center has proven over the years to be beneficial for the two neighbors, especially for the CSULB School of Nursing through a variety of mutual collaborations.

Many students do their clinicals, internships and preceptorships at the VA in medical surgical and mental health experiences. Also, alumni and faculty work at the VA, and VA employees or former employees teach at CSULB. For example, Ron Norby, who was the overall director of the entire VA Medical Center, brings that experience to campus as a professor in nursing.

“I think the value added experience that students learn from their VA clinical is what duty, honor and service has meant in the lives of the patients who are cared for at the VA and their families,” said Margaret Brady, professor of a nursing who works closely with the VA. “Students learn to see these patients as a special group of men and women whose service experiences have shaped their lives. The students see that these patients are often comrades for life dedicated to caring for their service family members. I think that our faculty who take students to the VA or work on projects there quickly realize what an honor it is for them to serve the many men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country.”

Another example of the relationship between the two institutions is Joy Goebel, a CSULB associate professor of nursing, who does research at the VA in palliative care (chronic illness), symptom relief for significant care problems and health management. She is finding new ways to help the patients there deal with chronic care, pain control and fatigue. She is an expert in that area, and the VA decided to use that expertise to standardize systems of pain relief at VA hospitals through a form that all VA hospitals can easily access. She was the lead author in a multi-center study that developed a Pallative Care National Clinical Template for use during initial palliative care consultations, which was tested at five VA health care faciltities.

In addition to the VA partnerships, the CSULB School of Nursing gives special preference to student veterans applying for admission.

“It’s our commitment to veterans. We have an impacted program so we look at veterans with special consideration, but they need to meet the standards, and then they get the preference,” said Brady.

There are also a number of veterans working at and attending the school.

Cleddhy Arellano, program coordinator for the Adult Geriatric Nurse Practitioner Program, has been in the reserves for 10 years after serving three years in the U.S. Air Force where he worked in a hospital. The reserves commitment requires one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year of service, but it is nothing compared to his hospital service where recovering soldiers went. He shares his experiences with student veterans, and they share theirs with him.

“I’ve seen a lot of battle injuries. I’ve seen amputees and attempted suicides,” said the proud veteran, who said he loves wearing his uniform on weekends. “You have to be strong and put that wall between you and the injured. You need to be strong in front of the injured. You try to hold back your emotion as you piece them back together. I have had a few nursing students that were veterans in the infantry in Afghanistan. They’ve seen a lot of their friends killed. I understand vets. Why you join the service is because it makes you better off as a civilian.”

Arellano believes there is a special bond between the veterans who work at CSULB and the veteran students.

“Once they know you have served they find a comfort zone. They can often lead my class, and they love that,” he said. “Veteran students can make better teachers and nurses because they have a different perspective on life.”

A recent highlight of the partnership has been the Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare, which earlier this year chose CSULB to participate in the Jonas Scholars program with a $30,000 grant to support three CSULB veteran nursing students. All three work at the VA and are pursuing doctor of nursing degrees at CSULB.

“I came to CSULB for the DNP (doctorate) program because they have a strong curriculum. Some of my peers went through the program, and all had positive comments. They have really good programs. I translate it to my environment and share that knowledge with my staff,” said Jonas Scholar Mira Casteneda. “I feel like there’s progression, and this is my terminal degree. I need to be updated all the time. I am meeting my goal, and I have seen a lot of improvement. I have significantly changed. Now, I look at the most compelling research for decisions and patient care, which I didn’t do before.”

Arelleno summed up the value of the CSULB/VA relationship, and surprisingly he said it is not the increased empathy the nursing students develop, but the extra hands-on experience.

“Students get a different experience at the VA,” he said. “They can share their stories. The feedback we get from students is that they learn more because the veteran patients let them do more. The veteran patients say ‘come on, do it.’”