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Air Force nursing corps meeting challenges

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 05, 2003) -- The Air Force assistant surgeon general for nursing services met with the Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee on defense April 30 to discuss the current state of the nursing corps.

"As we vigorously execute our mission at home and abroad, Air Force nurses and enlisted nursing personnel are meeting the increasing challenges with great professionalism and distinction," said Brig. Gen. Barbara Brannon.

Capt. Kristen McCabe holds a soldier's hand and talks to him during his flight to Germany. The special-forces soldier was seriously injured in an ambush in southern Afghanistan recently. McCabe is a Critical Care Aeromedical Transport Team nurse with the 438th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Keith Kluwe.

During her testimony, the general assured senators the Air Force nursing corps is overcoming challenges wherever they occur.

One such challenge is the development of a more joint medical effort.

"Medical teams from all three services have worked together very smoothly in the operational environment, and the patient hand-offs are virtually seamless," Brannon said. "The teamwork has been phenomenal."

Brannon also told senators the Air Force is looking to increase the overall skill level of the nursing corps. Nearly 79 percent of Air Force nurses are company grade officers, she said. To maintain an appropriate number of nurses in the right grade, the Air Force initiated a top down study of the nursing corps.

"Early data shows a significant need to increase field grade authorizations," Brannon said. "A byproduct of this increase would be a greater promotion opportunity, bringing it more in line with other Air Force officers. "

In regards to retention and recruiting efforts, Brannon said the Air Force fell only 104 nurses below the 3,974 authorized last year -- better than they had expected. She explained the relatively small gap was because of an unusually low rate of separation. Regardless, the nursing corps continues to look for new, more effective recruiting methods, she said.

"We are currently working with our sister services to fund an increased accession bonus for a four-year commitment and exploring the feasibility of an accession bonus for nurses who choose a three-year obligation," Brannon said.

An increase in nurses within the Air Force also benefits enlisted troops, Brannon said.

"We also recognize the need to increase our enlisted medics’ participation in baccalaureate nursing programs," Brannon said. "We are exploring a variety of scholarship and stipend initiatives to make it easier for enlisted personnel to earn a BSN and be commissioned into the nurse corps."