From left: Second Lt., Hunni Harrington, 2nd Lt. Jenna Schuckman and 2nd Lt. Rachel Reininger take apart a chest tube during a classroom course Feb. 16 as part of the Nurse Transition Program at UC Medical Center. (Courtesy photo)

Nurse Transition Program celebrates 10 years at UC Medical Center

CINCINNATTI, Ohio – UC Health Cardiac Nurse Elaine Philipp hasn’t forgotten the three weeks in 2007 that her son, then a Marine Corps member, spent in a Baghdad hospital after he was injured in an explosion. It was three weeks that Philipp had to rely on strangers on the other side of the world to treat him.

“And they took really good care of him,” Philipp said of her son, who is now a veteran — and doing well.

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So it made sense for Philipp, who was already a preceptor for UC College of Nursing students, to teach U.S. Air Force nurses through the Nurse Transition Program just a year later.

“I just feel like the military took good care of [my son] in the hospital in Baghdad. So I want these nurses to be able to give as great of care as he received,” Philipp said.

UC Medical Center hosts the country’s first civilian-military Nurse Transition Program, a 10-week clinical course that readies U.S. Air Force nurses for active-duty service. The program celebrates its 10th year anniversary with UC Health in 2018.

“The primary goal of the program is for these young lieutenants to acquire skills, and UC Medical Center has been a great hospital to do it,” said Maj. Jonathan Wurzelbacher, NTP course supervisor.

UC Medical Center remains just one of four civilian hospitals in the United States to host a Nurse Transition Program. Wurzelbacher said hospitals like UC Medical make a good fit because they present patients with diverse and complex medical needs.

“They can see and learn more in a shorter period of time; so when they leave here they are ready to take on the roles of a nurse,” Wurzelbacher said.

All participants must have a bachelor’s of science in nursing. Some come to the NTP through the Air Force’s Nurse Enlisted Commission Program or through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps; others earn a BSN as a civilian and join as a direct commission. The 88th Medical Group at Wright Patterson Air Force Base provides program oversight and instructors.

USAF transition nurses complete two rotations in different units, each time learning under an assigned UC Health nurse preceptor. By the time they finish the program, they will have logged 288 clinical hours. Between 60 and 80 Air Force members graduate from the NTP at UC Health each year.

The program’s first rotation focuses on clinical work, while the second develops leadership abilities.

“It’s not just about gaining clinical skills,” Wurzelbacher said. “We’re also teaching them how to be military officers.”

Transition nurses often have more clinical experience than nursing students, having already completed some rotations in school, Philipp said. While the program helps sharpen participants’ clinical abilities, Philipp also tries to teach other skills such as organization — and even self-confidence.

“I always tell them to have faith in themselves, and if they’re in doubt about anything, don’t ever be afraid to ask a question,” she said.

While Philipp was initially compelled to teach in part because of her personal connection to the military, she’s stayed with the program almost all 10 years because she simply loves teaching the next generation of military servicemen and women.

“They’re just so polite and eager to learn,” she said. “Most of them go out of their way to help the staff and all the patients and family members.”

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