UWF and DOD SkillBridge program help veteran transition to civilian nursing educator career

For Army Lt. Col. Brandy Clayton, retirement after 24 years of active duty brought some uncertainties about her future along with some things she knew for sure. She knew she wanted to put her experience as a military nurse educator to work in the civilian sector after retirement. Originally from Fort Walton Beach, she also knew she wanted to call the Gulf Coast home again.

The Department of Defense SkillBridge program laid the groundwork for how to make it all happen. SkillBridge connects military-to-civilian retiring and transitioning service members with industry partners to gain valuable civilian work experience through specific industry training, apprenticeships or internships during their last 180 days of service. 

For service members, SkillBridge provides an invaluable chance to work and learn in civilian career roles. For industry partners, the program provides opportunities to access and leverage the military’s highly trained and skilled workforce at no cost. Service members participating in SkillBridge programs continue receiving military compensation and benefits, while industry partners provide civilian training and work experience.

Last year, Clayton reached out to Dr. Crystal Bennett, director of UWF’s School of Nursing housed in the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health, to see if the SkillBridge program might be a possibility at UWF. 

“I met with Dr. Clayton and discussed the objectives she wanted to achieve with the program,” Bennett said. “Because of her Ph.D., it gave her a wide range of opportunities within the School of Nursing.”

Bennett recommended the University’s new Entry Into Practice (Direct Entry) Nursing, MSN program as the ideal setting for her SkillBridge internship and connected Clayton with Dr. Tricia Huey and Dr. Tina Barbour-Taylor.

“Dr. Bennett told me, ‘I would love for you to kind of get in and really see how things are going to be working with this program because it’s really new and you’re going to learn a lot,” Clayton said. 

Since last October, Clayton has shadowed and collaborated with faculty, participated in student teaching, attended committee and faculty meetings, helped proctor tests and assisted in skills labs and simulations. 

“From my very first visit to UWF, I received the biggest, warm welcome from everybody,” Clayton said. “I have enjoyed everything that I have been able to do here through the SkillBridge program and have been able to take what I learned as a nurse educator in the military and enhance that knowledge with the experiences and perspective I’ve gained here at the University.”

In December, Clayton went through the faculty search committee process, applying for and earning an assistant professor of clinical practice faculty position at UWF.

“Dr. Clayton has a broad range of knowledge and clinical expertise that she can teach across multiple courses,” Bennett said. “She embodies what it means to be a nursing professional and models accountability, integrity and the Nurses Code of Ethics for our students.”

Lori Milkeris, director of UWF’s Military & Veterans Resource Center said programs like SkillBridge and resources provided through the MVRC are essential to the academic and career success of active duty service members, veterans and military-affiliated students.

“The DoD SkillBridge program serves as a win-win for both transitioning service members and employers,” Milkeris said. “It assists with a smoother transition into civilian life while providing businesses with access to skilled and motivated talent. By allowing service members to work in civilian jobs before separating from the military, SkillBridge helps them adjust to the civilian work environment and culture, reducing the shock of their new norm.”

Clayton encourages anyone facing the transition from military to civilian careers to consider participating in the SkillBridge program. 

“We learn certain skills in the military that will be different in the civilian world,” Clayton said.  “SkillBridge helps us gain the knowledge and experience necessary to successfully merge into our new career roles.”

For more information about UWF’s School of Nursing, visit