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BYU Nursing students serve as guardians on Honor Flights. One of many unique learning opportunities in veteran care that BYU nursing students receive. (Credit: Bradley H. Slade/BYU Magazine)

For more than a decade, the BYU College of Nursing has offered a class exclusively focused on veteran care, the first of its kind in the U.S.

The college’s accrediting body, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, has created a formal, national initiative to enhance the level of veteran nursing education nationwide, and they’ve turned to BYU for help.

“They contacted us to see if we’d be willing to share our materials with other schools across the country,” said BYU nursing professor Kent Blad. “It was a very natural fit for us to be able to help out.”

Blad has worked alongside fellow nursing professor Ron Ulberg to create the course and focus at BYU, called Advanced Public & Global Health – Veterans Section. Both Blad and Ulberg are veterans themselves and are able to teach the class and guide the curriculum from a first-hand perspective. They've shared syllabi, class assignments, learning activities, books and video resources, all in an effort to help elevate the level of veteran care education nationwide.

The culmination of the program at BYU is being able to participate in the Honor Flight.

As covered with an in-depth look by BYU Magazine in the fall 2015 issue, the Honor Flight transports veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with other veterans who may be terminally ill.

The experience goes hand-in-hand with the BYU program’s class motto: “To know them is to care for them better.”

Participating in the Honor Flight gives BYU students important hands-on nursing experience, serving as what they call guardians to the veterans. That experience will no doubt benefit them in their future employment. But along with that, the students gain heart-felt experiences to cherish for a lifetime. Walking in airports through halls of applause, students getting to serve as guardians to their own grandparents, hearing first-hand accounts of wars and conflicts, all of these experiences leave a lasting impact on the students.

“There are 24 million veterans in the U.S, and the more we can spread this word beyond just our tiny little class, the better,” Blad said. “We want everybody to know how to better care for these veterans, because there's so many of them that need care. So, Ideally we would have every nursing student in the United States take this class to learn about how to better care for them.”