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CU Nursing students

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Three CU Nursing students earn spots in VA Learning Opportunity Residency (VALOR) Program

Author Dana Brandorff | Publish Date June 22, 2021

For most college students, the summer between their junior and senior years is filled with part-time jobs and a break from school. But for three University of Colorado College of Nursing students — Dustin Bell, Jakob Nelsen, and Gabriel Toepel — their summer will be spent creating valuable working relationships, building a resume, and increasing clinical skills, clinical judgment, and critical thinking while caring for our nation’s veterans.

The three were recently selected for the VA Learning Opportunities Residency program (VALOR) – a year-long paid residency Baccalaureate Program for nursing students between their junior and senior years. Selected candidates for this paid internship work with the Veterans Administration for a total of 400 hours during the summer months (typically starting in June) and may work an additional 400 hours, spread over their senior year while accommodating their school schedule.

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CU College of Nursing student Gabriel Toepel

According to Toepel, “This is a great opportunity. In essence, it’s a paid job that pairs me with a nurse mentor, providing one-on-one precepting, advice, and guidance. I feel this experience will help me be more prepared and knowledgeable and will increase my confidence and skills a whole year before I graduate.”

With only four openings a year, it is highly competitive. “We’re very proud of the caliber of our students. It says a lot, to have three CU Nursing students selected for these four opportunities,” says Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAANP. Representing two branches of the military (Air Force, and Army) – two of the three VALOR residents (Bell and Toepel) are veterans. In 2020, four CU Nursing students were selected into these competitive spots!

"The VALOR program provides students with a unique experience to bridge the gap between classroom experience and real-world nursing in a protected environment," says VALOR program Coordinator with Eastern Colorado Healthcare System Nora Fitzgerald, MSN, RN.

The difference between this and the standard clinical experience that all nurses receive as part of their bachelor’s degree, is that VALOR pairs the students up with one preceptor for a longer rotation, not multiple preceptors throughout several rotations, allowing the students to create meaningful relationships.

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CU College of Nursing student Dustin Bell and his
preceptor Daniel Stange

It provides opportunities for learning including didactic, classroom experiences, simulation, and clinical practice with a qualified RN preceptor. Opportunities are available to rotate to other units and specialties for observation experiences and other planned educational experiences.

"The VALOR program provides nursing students with the opportunity to enhance their skills and develop critical thinking in a VA healthcare setting," says Allison E. Boyrer, MS, MA, BSN, RN, coordinator for the VALOR program at Eastern Colorado Healthcare System.

“You get to know your preceptor and they get to know you. In some clinical rotations, you’re just getting the hang of a job or your mentor by the time you move onto another setting. With this, you develop those on-the-job skills that are necessary for nursing. And your mentor can see your skills and how far you’ve come,” says Bell.

With a united goal of caring for the veteran population, this program is a step toward being an Aeromed Flight Nurse for Toepel and working for the VA for Bell. “I’m hoping to get a job out of this,” says Bell.