Defense Media Network

Interview: Donna Gage, Chief Nursing Officer, VHA



Donna Gage is an accomplished health care executive with a focus on health care delivery leadership. In her current role, she leads the development, implementation, and evaluation of a strategic plan and activities that support the continued advancement of nursing practice, education, and research across the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

Prior to her current position, Gage was a consultant and mediator with BMC Associates, consulting to leaders in the health care industry on management and leadership issues, including labor and management relations. Previously, she was vice president/chief nursing officer at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, and from 2001 to 2011 she was the chief nursing officer at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Gage is a member of several professional organizations, including the American Nurses Association, the American Organization of Nurse Executives, and Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. She is Board certified in nursing administration from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She has received numerous awards and honors, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Nursing Leadership Award.


The Year in Veterans Affairs and Military Medicine: How has the influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan had an effect on the roles of specialized nursing in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers?

Dr. Donna Gage: I think that the influx of the veterans from the OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] and OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] wars has really resulted in helping the nurses become even more specialized. The nurses that care for these veterans have really played a key collaborative role in helping to establish a national multi-tiered level of care system. That’s known as the polytrauma system of care [PSC] that we provide. What’s really important about that is the nurses have had to build upon their knowledge and skills and bring all of that together to meet the rehabilitation needs of our very young veterans who have very complex and severe wounds. At the same time, they’re also having to support and educate the young families and extended families who are involved in the care of these veterans. Bringing all of that together, they’ve been providing care with a more holistic focus that is much more a total, inclusive approach to the care.

We have so many nurses and advanced practice nurses and other colleagues that are drawn to the opportunity to serve our nation’s veterans.

What’s great to watch is how quickly the nurses have adapted in providing care for this much younger population of veterans. Their injuries are much more complex than we have seen in the past. They have both visible and invisible wounds and, as I mentioned, their young spouses and children and parents and everyone are coming together and wanting to be a part of that care.

I think that, while rising up to those challenges, at the same time these nurses have established a wonderful network for each other and with others in the VA, the VHA, and, as well, within the community to serve as positive role models in sharing their knowledge and expertise as they care for these veterans. They rose to the challenge with an excellence in care delivery that has positively impacted the care of all veterans and serves as a benchmark for the level of care for our nation. What I mean by that is there are multiple trauma centers across the country, and so they are helping to establish a very high level as a benchmark for trauma care.

Nurses within the PSC serve in the capacity of nurse liaisons between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the VA. They collaboratively developed a transfer summary tool that crosses both electronic data systems, a previously non-existent capability that enhances safe transfers of these warriors. The nurses play a significant role in case management of the OEF/OIF veterans that is a lifelong service for the severely injured. There were newly established roles as polytrauma nurse and polytrauma nurse educator that contribute expertise to this patient population as members of the Polytrauma Interdisciplinary Team, assuring that services and education are made available to these veterans, family members, and caregivers. They played a significant role in the implementation of the caregiver legislation, development of brain injury and upper extremity amputation clinical practice guidelines, fact sheets, and much more.

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