Nurses couldn’t be more deserving of our respect, recognition and appreciation for their invaluable commitment as caregivers. They work tirelessly each day to ensure their patients’ needs are met and that everyone receives the best care possible. . They are at the heart of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) world-class patient-centered standard of care, making a lasting difference in the lives of our Veterans and their families.
Would it surprise you to learn that VA is the largest employer of nurses in our nation? Also, VA has a long history of investing in nurses’ education and helping them reach their career goals through student employment, residencies and orientation programs. As part of Patient Aligned Care Teams, nurses play a crucial role in Veterans’ long-term health. They work collaboratively across disciplines and treatment settings with a designated medical team to help coordinate whole-person care.
One Profession, Many Paths
From hands-on caregiving to the corporate boardroom, the diversity of career paths available in the nursing profession is almost limitless. Just ask Dean Weaver and Natalie Bestul. Each started their careers as nurses but followed different paths to their current positions at TriWest Healthcare Alliance (TriWest), as director, clinical quality analyst and supervisor quality control, respectfully.
A Veteran Caring for Veterans
After serving in the Navy for five years, Dean headed to business school. He began to notice a few “regulars” at his daily lunch spot where he also frequently studied. It was there that an unlikely friendship developed between him and a Catholic Nun, Sister Mary Matthews, a hospital nurse. During their conversations, Sister Matthews explained that the nursing field is flexible and growing with great promise and opportunity. Her enthusiasm and passion for the profession sparked Dean’s interest, especially when she identified how the business field could be applied to nursing. He changed his major from business to nursing and Sister Matthews continued as his beloved mentor until her passing.
Nurses are at the heart of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) world-class patient-centered standard of care, making a lasting difference in the lives of our Veterans and their families.
Dean’s military experience provided a steppingstone to working with his fellow Veterans. “The comradery of being a Veteran and serving Veterans was very attractive and comforting to me. I initially chose to work at VA to be part of something larger and supportive to my community,” he said. He credits the MISSION Act (Choose VA) as being the most positive change he’s seen in Veteran care. “It changed the whole structure of how VA works. It’s allowed the opportunity for TriWest to assist with managing the care of Veterans beyond the physical walls of VA, greatly helping improve the care of Veterans in our community,” he said.
When asked what the most rewarding aspect of working with Veterans is, Dean replied “With every little step, knowing that I made a difference in a fellow Vet’s life.”
A Natural Caregiver and Teacher
Natalie Bestul was introduced to caregiving at an early age when she accompanied her mom to her job at an assisted living facility. She eventually became a volunteer there and developed a deep affinity for the residents. “I had 50 grandmas! I loved it, it was awesome,” she said. She was also very hands-on in helping her mother care for her “real” grandparents, all sharing the same household.
Natalie comes from a large family of Veterans, including her father, grandfather and several uncles. She joined the Army at age 18 intending to become a helicopter pilot. Unfortunately, her military career was cut short when she tore her ACL in training and was medically discharged. The care she received after her injury was a front-row introduction to a variety of health care professions, and the experience led to her deciding to become a nurse. She worked her way through nursing school as an emergency medical technician and a certified nursing assistant.
Natalie has worked with Veterans for most of her career in a variety of settings, including long-term care facilities, Veterans’ homes and home care. “The Veterans were always my favorite people. I loved the stories they told and felt it was an honor to help those who gave so much,” she said. One Veteran, in particular, touched Natalie so deeply, she said it “made her a different person.” He was a World War II Veteran and prisoner of war who was captured after the Battle of Bataan. “It was the level of peace this Veteran taught me about, after everything he’d been through. How I handled patient care changed after hearing his stories,” she said.
Natalie has worn many hats throughout her nursing career. As she put it, “You pretty much do what you need to do, be it filing Medicare claims or plumbing a drain in the middle of the night.” With her can-do attitude and a love of teaching, a natural career shift occurred when electronic medical records came on the scene. She became a trainer, teaching nurses, doctors, intake staff—entire teams—on how to use the system.
Some years later, Natalie was going through a bumpy time trying to match the right living environment for her family with the right job when, through word of mouth, she learned about an opening at TriWest. Her teaching skills combined with her varied experience not only got her the job but also qualified her to move up from trainee to trainer. She now trains employees how to do the job she was originally hired to do. “From the work that we do, I can see that Veterans are getting the care that is so much needed. But there are so many more out there that we still need to reach,” she said.
Reflecting on what motivates Natalie in her work life, she strives to honor the saying, “They may not remember your name, but they will remember how you made them feel.” She’ll always remember the stories.