Helping military veterans obtain civilian health care roles

Despite her military medical training, U.S. Navy corpsman Kelly Wheeler, didn’t think a job in health care would be possible, but thanks to the Wisconsin Military Medics and Corpsman Program — and a partnership between Heroes for Healthcare and UW Health — she’s able to continue her love of health care as a medical assistant technician in her hometown of Cottage Grove, Wis., while rushing a nursing degree

In September 2023, Kelly Wheeler swapped her U.S. Navy corpsman uniform for medical scrubs as a medical assistant tech at UW Health. Kelly works at her hometown clinic in Cottage Grove, Wis., giving vaccinations, taking blood pressure and other tasks to assist providers.

It was a job she did not think was possible right out of her military service, despite spending the last seven years performing similar medical tasks such as dispensing vaccines, analyzing lab samples and assisting in surgeries as a Navy corpsman. That’s because in most states, military health care experience cannot be applied to civilian health care roles due to credential and licensing requirements.

But in 2022, the Wisconsin legislature approved the Wisconsin Military Medics and Corpsmen Program. It waives the credential and license requirements, allowing eligible Army medics, Navy corpsmen and Air Force techs to work in civilian health care roles under supervision while they seek medical credentials or licenses.

The legislation was championed by a nonprofit group called Heroes for Healthcare. They are leading the effort and partner with health systems such as UW Health to help medically trained veterans and military personnel transition into civilian health care roles.

“It’s a win-win for veterans and health care systems like ours,” said Rudy Jackson DNP, MHA, RN, CENP, chief nurse executive, UW Health. “We can build our workforce amid a shortage of workers while helping medically trained veterans and military personnel transition into civilian health care roles.”

Kelly became the first participant in the program. UW Health created a position for her to work three days a week while attending nursing school online two days a week.

This effort is personal for Rudy, who spent 27 years in the Army primarily as a medic and nurse for patients in a war zone, but right out of the military he worked at Blockbuster Video because his military training did not translate to a civilian health care role.

Fortunately, that has now changed and UW Health leads in this innovative space by providing opportunities for these trained, hard-working medical professionals who want to help people in their communities.

This program has been accepted by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) and will be presented at the national AONL conference in 2024 by Anne Mork, MS, MHCDS, RN, chief nursing officer, ambulatory and nursing support services; Luke Sticht, MSN, RN, CENP, CCRN-K, chief nursing officer American Family Children’s Hospital; and Shabvon Johnson, BSN, MBA, RN director, ambulatory operations.

Kelly Wheeler

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the Nursing Year in Review 2023 (pdf).