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U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs touts importance of nursing at Emory roundtable
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VA Secretary Denis McDonough (center) with School of Nursing students after the roundtable discussion.

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough (center) with School of Nursing students after the roundtable discussion.

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough emphasized the vital role that nurses play in the U.S. health care system, and particularly among the nation’s veterans and families, during a visit yesterday to the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in Atlanta.

“Nurses are key to how we provide care,” McDonough told the group. “President Biden says, ‘Nurses not only save your life, but they make you want to live,’ and that is surely the experience we have with our nurses across the VA system.”

McDonough, who was in Atlanta for the renaming ceremony of the regional VA office in honor of the late U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, joined in a roundtable discussion with Emory nursing school students, faculty, staff, leaders, and VA clinical and research collaborators, many of whom are veterans.

Ravi Thadhani, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory, executive director of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, and vice chair of the Emory Healthcare Board of Directors, was on hand to welcome McDonough and kick off the roundtable, which was moderated by Lisa Muirhead, associate dean for equity and inclusion, admissions, and student affairs at the School of Nursing.

McDonough spoke with the group for nearly an hour, fielding questions and discussing VA benefits, initiatives, research, employment and patient care.

VA is the largest employer of nursing personnel in the nation, with more than 119,000 nurses, according to a 2023 report. That year, VA nurses served more than 6.7 million patients and participated in more than 87.4 million outpatient visits.

McDonough said nurses will be key as the VA seeks to move care closer to its patients.

“That care will be outpatient driven, so we are going to need more and more nurses to lead that care,” he says. “That’s good news for us because we think nurses provide the best care.”

The Emory School of Nursing has shared a 70-year partnership with the Atlanta VA Health System, participating in VA-sponsored fellowship programs, nursing academic partnerships, residency programs and faculty appointments. Funded by the VA Office of Academic Affiliation, the school has worked on national competency-based curriculums and evaluation measures that more than 100 VA residency programs have adopted.

The school and the VA have also collaborated to develop a model on social determinants of health among older veterans, an initiative on workforce resilience training among VA personnel in Atlanta and Boston, and research on the effectiveness of yoga among women veterans with military sexual trauma-related PTSD.

“Emory is a great partner for VA, and in particular, the School of Nursing is so important to us,” he says. “Over the years, our partnership has turned out hundreds of great nurses — thousands, at this rate — for VA and other health care providers in the country. So, I wanted to come to check in with our partner to find out what more we can do to be a better partner and see if there are places where we can grow because the demand in the health care system for more nurses remains very strong.”

Secretary McDonough is the 11th U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, beginning his tenure in February 2021. He also served in the Obama Administration as White House Chief of Staff from February 2013 to January 2017. Throughout his service in the White House, he helped lead the Obama-Biden administration’s work on behalf of military families and veterans. 

About the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing  

As one of the nation’s top nursing schools, the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing is committed to educating visionary nurse leaders and scholars. Home to the No. 1 master’s, No. 3 BSN and No. 6 DNP programs nationwide, the school has been recognized as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League of Nursing. The school offers undergraduate, master’s, doctoral and non-degree programs, bringing together cutting-edge resources, distinguished faculty, top clinical experiences and access to leading health care partners to shape the future of nursing and impact health and well-being. Learn more here.

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