United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
VA Nurse is Veterans' "Bridge" from Active Duty to Veteran
Three female Walter Reed employees look at a computer screen.
Brenda Stidham (middle) collaborates with her colleagues at Walter Reed to prepare medical documents for a patient's transfer to a VA Polytrauma Center.

Think "nurse" and you might think of syringes, blood pressure readings and thermometers. Not if you knew Brenda Stidham. She's an example of how the role of a nurse comes in many forms. Throughout her career, she has made headway in clinical research, played a key role in developing an electronic records tool and now works as a vital liaison between military and VA hospitals.

Brenda's current position is one of three VA/DoD Polytrauma rehabilitation nurse liaisons. She is employed by the VA, but her physical workplace is at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.

She is the nursing "bridge" for OEF/OIF active duty service members and Veterans transitioning from Walter Reed to one of the four VA Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers, located in Palo Alto, Minneapolis, Tampa and Richmond. On a daily basis, she is responsible for informing families of VA care, answering questions, and making sure the logistical details between medical centers are managed smoothly.

Polytrauma care is a unit for those suffering from more than one severe injury, such as Traumatic Brain Injury and the loss of a leg. It's an intense environment where Veterans and service members are adjusting to their injuries and their new surroundings. With so many changes in their life, patients and their family members are generally apprehensive about a move to a new city and facility.

In order to counteract these fears, Brenda steps in to ease the concerns of men and women injured in combat, as well as their families. She is an information source for any and all questions regarding the medical facility transfer.

"What I enjoy most about my job is the time at the bedside with the Veterans, active duty service members and their families, reassuring them and providing information about the Polytrauma system of care. It can be a very stressful time and they have a lot of questions, but I help keep the transition as calm and smooth as possible."

It may have something to do with her tranquil nature and her small town Kentucky charm that help her keep things unruffled.

Helping the Process by Advancing the System

Another part of her job entails working with VA Polytrauma Centers and Walter Reed to make sure both sides are well-informed and well-prepared for the move.

In the four years Brenda has worked in this position, she has helped revolutionize the process of transferring patients between DoD and VA Polytrauma Centers. She was a driving force behind the development of an electronic nursing hand-off tool, an electronic record that provides necessary information for each patient, including the nature of the injuries, symptoms and functional status.

Her nursing career includes working as a coordinator for clinical research with stroke patients and working on a caregiver study. "I've enjoyed and gained a deeper appreciation for nursing throughout my career. I'm very lucky. The position as liaison has been one of the most challenging and rewarding in my career."

Brenda planned to be a nurse when she was young. She grew up near the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky, a family-centered healthcare system and nursing school, and was inspired by the fleet of well-trained nurses. She received her bachelor's degree in nursing at Eastern Kentucky University and a master's degree in public health at the University of Kentucky. She is now working on a doctorate in nursing at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD.

"I'm honored to serve in this way. It's a unique role for nurses and it's a unique opportunity to provide needed information and help relieve anxiety in patients and families."

Related Link: www.polytrauma.va.gov

By Megan Tyson, VA Staff Writer

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