By Julie Ciaramella
AANA Public Relations & Communications
As a veteran and a nurse working at a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facility, Matthew Jenkins, a student registered nurse anesthetist, understands the importance of CRNA full practice authority in the VHA more than most. This past March, he made a difference for his future profession by advocating on Capitol Hill through a legislative fellowship program hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Student Veterans of America (SVA). He was also recently selected as part of the 2020 class of Tillman Scholars by the Pat Tillman Foundation.
“I wasn’t involved in politics in general before this,” he said. “I kept my head low and just did what I needed to do. But when it affects patient care, it becomes an issue to me, especially when it comes to veterans.”
Jenkins, a first-year student in the University of South Florida’s nurse anesthesia program, is a Marine Corps veteran who served one tour in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq between 2003 to 2007. He also attended the University of South Florida for his undergraduate degree in nursing and has worked as a nurse at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Fla., for the past eight years.
When he applied for the VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship in fall 2019, he originally intended to focus on issues of chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder care and treatment, and what anesthesia providers can do in those areas. After speaking to the VFW about issues faced by CRNAs, they encouraged him to explore the issue of full practice authority as part of his fellowship.
“They said that was something they could get behind,” Jenkins said. “With full practice authority, I felt like I had a unique perspective, and I saw an issue with access to care.”
In his research paper for the fellowship, he explored the lack of access to anesthesia services related to a shortage of anesthesia providers in VA hospitals. If the VA followed the military’s model of independent CRNA practice, he wrote, “it would allow the more than 900 CRNAs currently employed by the VA to practice independently. This would quickly and effectively address the shortfalls in anesthesia care currently plaguing the VA healthcare system.”
His paper also looked at the 2016 VA Full Practice Authority for Advance Practice Registered Nurses Rule, which granted full practice authority to all advanced practice registered nurses except CRNAs, a decision that “holds no evidence-based merit,” he wrote.
In addition to the research paper, as part of the fellowship he attended the SVA National Conference in Los Angeles in January, created YouTube videos and social media posts around full practice authority, and developed a one-page paper summarizing the issue to give to legislators during the VFW Legislative Conference.
The conference, held March 1-4 in Washington, D.C., provided an opportunity for one-on-one meetings with legislators and their aides to offer his perspective and lobby for full practice authority. He toured the Capitol and met with legislators who are veteran-friendly, including some who are combat-injured veterans.
When he’s meeting with legislators, Jenkins said his goal is that they walk away with a sense of why it’s so important for CRNAs to have full practice authority in the VA, which will ensure access to care for our nation’s veterans.
“It’s something I can speak to on many levels and that I can relate to as a veteran, a patient, a VA employee, and a future CRNA beginning to understand what’s involved in the anesthesia world,” Jenkins said. “I think that’s a pretty unique perspective. Not many people are in that specific situation and can speak from all those levels.”
He plans to continue to share that perspective, grow as a leader, and help other veterans as part of his work as a Tillman Scholar.
“As someone who’s going to enter the profession and as a veteran, I feel like I need to do my part for future generations,” he said.