Vets bring military service – and sensibilities – to work at Penn State Hershey
More than 30 years ago, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Kurt Holtzer and fellow Navy sailors played cat-and-mouse with enemy Russian ships.
Sometimes, the ships passed so close they could see Russian sailors on deck. At times, they exchanged waves of greeting. In other instances, the gestures were less pleasant. Always, they prepared for battle – ready to take aggressive measures against each other if given the order.
Fast forward to 2012.
Holtzer, a supervisor for the Penn State Hershey biomedical team, has just been diagnosed with leukemia and is being cared for by oncology nurse Andrey Chuprin. As the two become close and swap stories, Holtzer discovers that Chuprin had served in the Russian Navy in the same part of the Pacific Ocean at the same time he was there.
“On that water, we were mortal enemies,” Holtzer said. “But as I lay in my oncology bed, Andrey (was) fighting to save my life. Today, we are like brothers. What a tremendous turn of events.”
Like any large employer, Penn State Hershey has its share of veterans – men and women who served their country before coming to serve on campus. They aren’t always easy to spot, but they are all over campus, putting the skills and experiences they gained during their time in the service to work for patients and their families.
Dr. Harjit Singh, associate dean for diversity, said terminology referencing military members and veterans is part of his office’s mission and goals. “That is a very basic, yet important thing,” he said. “These are groups we feel are honored members of our community because we all understand how much these folks have to offer.”
Scott Sutherland, a Navy veteran who came to Penn State Hershey as chief of the campus security department less than two months ago, said he likes that the principle values of his employer are the same ones that drew him to military service: “They value service to others and support and encourage employees to be involved in their communities.”
Singh said veterans bring important qualities that add value to a civilian workplace. “There is a level of maturity,” he said. “Not only have they been out in the ‘real world,’ but they have been involved in some pretty intense situations and managed to get through them.”
For instance, Sutherland said his six-and-a-half years of active duty and subsequent public service as an FBI agent prepared him well for working in high-stress environments. “When you have a great deal of responsibility for the lives and welfare of others, you learn how to prioritize,” he said.
Veterans who have served overseas may also come with a cultural awareness and sensitivity that is in high demand as health care professionals serve an increasingly diverse population. “We need these folks who have a global perspective on things to teach us,” Singh said.
Brian Taylor is a lab technician with a long-term contract at Penn State Hershey. But he’s also an Army veteran and a member of the Michigan National Guard.
About once a month, he heads out of work early so he can get back to Michigan for his service commitment. “My role is not orthodox, and they work with me to allow me to go back and forth,” he said.
Taylor joined the Army because he needed guidance and stability in his life. During his decade of service, he spent three years on active duty, which included a tour in Afghanistan and caring for detainees in an Iraqi prison hospital.
“You learn a lot of skills for dealing with different people and different circumstances,” he said. “You learn to cope and adapt. As a traveling contractor who moves around a lot, that experience has been helpful when I’m going into new environments.”
Lynne Berkowsky, lead human resources recruiter, said Penn State Hershey is working to create an online military “crosswalk” service that will match veterans’ military experience and job codes with open positions on campus they may be qualified for.
“When we go to job fairs, these folks are coming to us with their resumes and we really don’t know what the military job codes would relate to,” she said. “So we have been bringing them back and asking people who are retired military here to help interpret them for us, because it’s like a different language.”
The new online crosswalk service – which Berkowsky expects will be ready to use in the next several months – will make the whole process easier for both military applicants and human resources personnel.
Dr. Paul Juliano, vice chairman of orthopedics and residency director of orthopedic surgery, works with the American Association of College of Medicine (AAMC)’s Joining Forces Initiative to increase awareness among students about the unique obstacles to care that active duty military and their families encounter.
A Navy veteran himself, Juliano has presented scenarios dealing with military families to the College of Medicine’s curriculum committee to increase students’ cultural competence. The College of Medicine also partners with the VA Hospital in Lebanon for student observations and research collaboration.
Medical student Mary Bennes joined the military for many of the same reasons as most – to serve her country, earn money for college and see the world.
She spent four years working as a laboratory technician for the Air Force and traveled to Alaska, South Dakota and Germany with her husband. When they divorced, Bennes decided it was time to follow her dream of getting a degree in biochemistry and becoming a doctor.
Bennes said the adaptability she learned during her military years taught her how to deal with whatever life throws at her. Now, as a first-year medical student who shadows an emergency-department physician and cares for a 23-year-old daughter with Downs Syndrome, that experience is coming handy. “I’m trying to get my feet under me,” she said.
Eventually, she would like to do medical missions and help when tragedies happen around the world.
The fact that the Medical Center accepts Tricare insurance that is specific to military personnel who don’t get care at a military or veterans’ facility is important, Juliano said. “I remember when I was in DC, if I couldn’t get care in the Navy hospital, it was hard to get access to care because a lot of places didn’t take it.”
Juliano is also part of an effort with the Office of Diversity on campus to create a registry of those affiliated with Penn State Hershey who have military experience.
The idea is to create a bank of resources and knowledge that can be drawn upon for student advising, expertise for curriculum development and other military awareness events and efforts on campus. Simply raising awareness of the number of veterans who work at Penn State Hershey and helping them connect with each other over a common history is important.
Oncology nurse Crystal Youngs came to Penn State Hershey a year ago after serving three years in the Army nurse corps. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Youngs cared for wounded warriors, generals, senators and their families. As a nurse in the hospital’s hematology/oncology unit, she cares for warriors of a different sort. “Cancer patients are fighting another kind of battle,” she said.
Youngs said she finds that the mission statement for her new employer is similar to that of the military. “I like that (Penn State Hershey) promotes a lot of the same things my military life did – education, leadership and patient-centered care.”