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Future of Nursing is Bright, Says Chief Nursing Officer Simonson

Image of Future of Nursing is Bright, Says Chief Nursing Officer Simonson. U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Katherine Simonson, Defense Health Agency chief nursing officer and acting assistant director for support, awards a challenge coin to Imelda “Med” Richter, a registered nurse at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, on April 13, 2023. Richter works in the hospital’s ambulatory procedures unit and post-anesthesia care unit. Simonson visited military hospitals and clinics to speak with nurses and nursing leaders as the Military Health System works to elevate the practice and profession of nursing. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Katherine Simonson is the Defense Health Agency’s chief nursing officer and acting assistant director for support. In an interview for National Nurses’ Week (May 6-12), she discussed how nursing is a disruptor for change, and remarked on the future of nursing in the Military Health System.

Simonson’s background in nursing has focused on critical care medicine with overseas deployments to Germany and Qatar. She was commissioned into the U.S. Army in 1990 after being a distinguished military graduate of Canisius College, Buffalo, New York, obtaining a bachelor’s of science in nursing from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a master’s of nursing from the University of Washington, Seattle. She was the 2001 Army Nurse Corps Award of Excellence winner.

Military Health System Communications: What is your strategic perspective for nursing in the Military Health System and how does that align with DHA Director U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland’s vision for the coming waves, including digitalization, person-centered preventive care, and communications?

Simonson: Nurses will lead from the front to achieve Lt. Gen. Crosland’s vision for the evolution of health care, and where we need to be as an MHS.

In the first phase, we are charged with leveraging technology and tools in a way that improves patient care. In the second, the goal is to focus on leveraging data and information. In the following phase, we will move from the focus on patients to focusing on persons and create an ecosystem of wellness that includes all aspects and influencers of wellness (i.e., communities, nutrition, policy, health).

Nurses are already working toward this progression. For example, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Melissa Troncoso, from the U.S. Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, led a team to assess barriers and facilitators to healthy eating behaviors among junior enlisted sailors, but translatable to all services. This work highlights the aspects of our ecosystems that make it challenging for our junior enlisted personnel, especially those living on installations, to consume healthy foods. We say, ‘Make healthy choices’ but systematically make finding those healthy choices difficult.

Troncoso presented her findings to the Department of Defense Food and Nutrition and Dietary Supplements Committee to identify ways to change policy and the installation ecosystem to facilitate health – exactly what Lt. Gen. Crosland is calling for. Nurses are already working toward this ideal goal and informing policy and practice now.

MHS Communications:

How are nurses driving best practices and innovating in the nursing practice?

Simonson: Nurses from all services are represented across DHA nursing working groups and in many of the clinical communities. Through these venues, nurses drive change at the strategic and policy levels of the DHA and for the services.

Our nursing research teams work to fill capability and knowledge gaps in the profession of military nursing. They assess the landscape of the future battlefield and work to anticipate the needs of the combatant commanders and our future patients.

By doing so, folks like U.S. Army Maj. Angela Samosorn at the U.S Army Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, are developing innovative ways to employ virtual reality training aids to advance the skills of our medics, corpsmen, and U.S. Air Force enlisted 4NOs at the Aerospace Medical Service.

Finally, our nurses are driving change, advancing best practices, and innovating at the bedside every day. Nurses have a longstanding history of data surveillance and then finding solutions, such as Florence Nightingale whose meticulous records of infection rates and hospital conditions during the Crimean War led to changes in how wounded soldiers were treated. Nurses are known to be the drivers of evidence-based practice in health care—this is no different in the military.

MHS Communications: How does the DHA continue to retain the most highly qualified nurses, increase recruitment and lessen burnout?

Simonson: The military has some of the most qualified nurses of any health system, but we all recognize we need more of them. Many nurses in and outside of the MHS are burned out. We asked a lot of them for a long time during the pandemic. Addressing burnout is complex, but not impossible.

Here are some ways we can get after this:

Staff need to feel valued and connected in the workplace. The DHA and DOD have a longstanding history of exemplary leadership—we know how to recognize people—but in some ways, we’ve forgotten how. Ceremonies and traditions were put on hold, gatherings were reduced, and connections were lost [during the pandemic].

I challenge our nursing leaders to reconnect, reward, and recognize their staff. At the DHA, we recognize excellence in clinical practice and leadership. For instance, the DHA supports the Daisy Awards for extraordinary nursing and will be instituting our joint, all-nursing levels of practice awards in the future.

Nurses desire the staff, tools, and resources needed to provide high-quality care. The DHA is working to streamline hiring processes, develop useful policy, and allocate resources to our military treatment facilities to support the delivery of high-quality care.

And they need to regain control over their work and nursing practice.

Lastly, we need to get out there and spread the word—it is good to be a military nurse! We need to share our stories and invite others to join our mission.

MHS Communications: What is the overarching future of military nursing in the new DHA?

Simonson: The future is bright. Our senior leaders continue to highlight the value of nursing—speaking our praises in ways we haven’t heard quite as loudly in the past. Nurses and nursing staff are the pacing item of our organization; as such, the DHA has identified ways to support the professional practice of military nursing.

We are working to support professional growth (training programs), practice to our fullest scope (transition initiatives), and encourage autonomy and control over nursing practice (professional practice model), and more.

The DHA is supporting a new age for military nursing—and we all have a role in capitalizing on this renewed understanding of how important nurses are in the delivery of high-quality care.

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Last Updated: September 06, 2023
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