Career Licensing and Certification Prove Challenging for Military Spouses
Guest contributor Lori Volkman explores the career portability challenges facing military spouses.
May 7, 2013 by Lori Volkman
Christine Graham has already been qualified to practice as a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner in Alabama, Kansas, Hawaii, Florida, Michigan, and Oklahoma. Yet she works below the level her prestigious career and experience dictates because she just can’t shake her biggest career challenge: being married to a United States Airman.
When she first went to nursing school at the University of Mobile she just assumed she’d always be in Alabama. She didn’t give her dream career field and its licensing requirements a second thought. Then she met Maj. Jared Graham. She never dreamed that working in the field she had studied all those years would be so difficult.
She understands and respects that marrying an Airman comes with its own unique sacrifices. That’s why she struggles, with each move, to justify the costs of continuing to work in a career she loves.
The more places she moves, the more licenses she has to keep up. Between application fees, transcript copies and verifications costs, proper certification in a new state can cost several hundred dollars along with all the hassle, headaches and paperwork. A recent move to Hawaii is proving those challenges haven't gotten much easier.
"I almost gave up my dream job because it just got so frustrating," Graham said. "But I’d already spent a few hundred dollars out of pocket when a part time job came my way, and the cost of living in Hawaii is so high. So I’m giving it another shot."
This story is not uncommon among military spouses. Military families move ten times more than the average family. In 2012, the Joining Forces Initiative recognized the struggle between moves and careers, and committed to improving the national landscape for career portability. In a report to the Department of Defense in 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama underscored the importance of licensed professionals and the need to create standardized licensure. An entire network of organizations has recently sprung up to help educate, advocate and mentor military spouses facing career challenges and they’re making amazing headway for these families. Here are some of the organizations leading the way:
- The Military Spouse Employment Partnership program (MSEP) manages a website that has a list of job fairs and hiring events, including a job search feature that allows military spouses to link up with employers specifically looking for military spouse employees.
- USA4militaryfamilies.com is a website operated by the DoD State Liaison Office, containing an exhaustive list of licensing updates and contacts for legislative change, state by state.
- DC-based Blue Star Families has started a new Spouse Network for educators, healthcare professionals and entrepreneurs at bluestarfam.org.
- One of the most active legislative organizations is the Military Officer’s Association of America (MOAA) and they have a really great spouse page called Making it in the MilLife. It's a valuable resource for job fair announcements and keeping an eye on the business needs and trends of military spouses. Their recent Military Spouse Career Symposium highlighted the amazing work of their legislative committee for military spouses.
- The National Military Spouse Network (NMSN) is another resource that holds networking events and rallies military spouses for a common and powerful voice.
- Another segment of military spouses with particularly expensive licensing challenges are attorneys, who have organized tochange the laws in all 50 states. Their association, the Military Spouse JD Network, started with only 2 military spouses and now has over 700 members.
- The United States Chamber of Commerce has a robust employment initiative called Hiring our Heroes, which takes aim at getting commitments from employers to hire veterans and military spouses, including career fairs where applicants are sometimes hired on the spot.
This list of resources is a great starting point for people looking to connect with the broader business world of military spouses who face licensing challenges, and can give civilians practical ideas for supporting the military community in a way that makes a real difference.
Christine Graham and many others believe that eventually most of the professions that require certification could be standardized in a way that would allow a national license with less onerous state-specific additions. Until then, spouses who chose professions in the education, healthcare and professional arenas will have to make tough choices about whether their careers are viable, simply because of the person they fell in love with.
If you would like to find a meaningful way to support a military spouse at MSJDN’s upcoming career event, you can learn about sponsorship and corporate recognition opportunities on their website, msjdn.org.