Dr. Julie Decker is teaching nurses how to provide compassionate care for veterans in a hospital setting. She co-authored a chapter in the book Veteran-centered Care in Education and Practice: An Essential Guide for Nursing Faculty, which focuses on educating nurses on understanding why and how veteran patients may need specialized care due to trauma, exposure, and other factors relating to their military service.

The book has received two awards. The Sigma Theta Tau 2021 Capstone International Nursing Book Award recognizes outstanding books published by nurses. The AJN Book of the Year Award 2021 (Nursing Education/Prof Dev. category) recognizes the most valuable texts of a given year as chosen by a panel of American Journal of Nursing judges.

Dr. Decker co-authored the fifth chapter of the book–”Occupational and Environmental Exposures in Veterans”–with Dr. Carma Erickson-Hurt, a retired lieutenant commander with the US Navy Nurse Corps. In the chapter, they discuss everything from noise exposure, to radiation, to the individual and generational effects of Agent Orange, and even Gulf War Syndrome, for which there is no known definitive cause.

She said: “We have only scratched the surface in understanding veterans and their culture in relation to proper, compassionate, comprehensive care. Hopefully this book is a small step in the right direction.”

Thanks to the interest of her nursing department colleagues, Dr. Decker also uses the book as the basis for her online nursing elective, Veterans in Healthcare. Registration for the class was filled within the first week of enrollment being open.

“The course isn’t just for nurses,” Dr. Decker said. “It’s really designed for all health services students because we all encounter veterans in our fields every day. It’s important for these students to have fundamental discussions about veteran culture and their unique healthcare issues.”

The class uses Dr. Decker’s book in addition to other supplemental resources, including those on the mental health concerns of veterans, active duty military, and their families.

“I find it important to understand why and how things like PTSD work,” said Dr. Decker. “For example, a veteran on the Fourth of July. For everyone else, it’s a day of celebration, but for a veteran with PTSD, the explosions could trigger memories of combat. As healthcare professionals, we need to understand triggers in hospitals and in the environment that could affect our patients.”

“I want student nurses to go to the bedside understanding the culture and how to approach veteran patients with understanding and compassion. That the only way to provide effective care is to approach your patients with compassion.”