By Randena Hulstrand, Vizient
When the global pandemic hit in early 2020, fourth-year nursing students were adjusting to the obstacles of attending classes online and the inability to take part in in-person clinical rotations.
When these new nurses started their first jobs at hospitals, they barely had any hands-on experience with patients such as performing a patient assessment, giving medications or starting IVs.
It was a frightening time.
Fortunately, the 12-month Vizient/American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Nurse Residency Program™ (NRP) — has allowed hospitals to help first-year nurses' transition to practice. There are over 700 NRP organizations supporting more than 38,000 new RNs nationwide.
First-year nursing challenges
The NRP — established over 20 years ago as a strategic, professional partnership between AACN, Vizient and healthcare organizations — provides data-driven solutions, including evidence-based curriculum and programmatic resources to focus on recruiting, retaining and sustaining new-to-practice RNs.
Forbes recently recognized 35 health systems on its annual list of "America's Best Employers for New Grads," of which almost half utilize the Vizient/AACN Nurse Residency Program™.
"The nursing workforce was challenged before COVID-19, but the pandemic further accelerated turnover, attrition and burnout. As a result, nurses under age 35 are leaving the profession at four times the rate of nurses over age 50 — with the first-year nursing turnover rate now 32.8%, up from 27% last year," said Evy Olson, vice president of nursing programs at Vizient. "Additionally, the pandemic has resulted in decreased passing rates on new nurses taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Tied together, these realities impact the availability and retention of first-year nurses."
That impact is felt by all areas of the healthcare industry — providers, hospitals, health systems and communities.
"Healthcare organizations are faced with so many questions: Where and how are we going to get the nurses and then get them to stay? How are we helping them study for the boards when we hire them before they have taken them? What are we doing to onboard them and create engagement and a relationship with them, so they will want to become part of our work family, not just check in for a job?" Olson said.
"The first step is to consider starting a Nurse Residency Program (NRP). The program has positively contributed to health service improvement by increasing professional development for new-to-practice RNs across the U.S. despite the COVID-19 pandemic. NRP participants have consistently surpassed national average retention rates, with 2021 showing 86.1% first-year retention compared to 72.3% in 2019."
Ensuring success of future caregivers
The NRP supports new nurses from day one.
"At orientation, competency assessments are executed to meet the needs of each new nurse to address the skills required to thrive in in the practice setting," Kelly Gallagher, director of nursing programs at Vizient, said. "The experienced nurses then monitor and coach the nurses through professional development, education and mentoring."
Interactive exercises provide a structural framework for understanding real-world, patient care scenarios that new nurses have never had before, and they also learn time management, clinical and leadership skills and how to effectively communicate with an interprofessional team.
While new nurses have come through one of the hardest transition times in history, Gallagher says the industry still holds promise, as the NRP fosters new nursing professionals' success.
"The program lets new nurses who haven't yet started their first year know that they aren't going to be thrown into the battle alone," she said. "From the nursing support to leadership — they'll have a team with them."