How “Grow Your Own” RN programs are helping organizations build great talent while filling a gap.
By Tierney McAfee
They say change starts from within—and some forward-thinking hospitals and health systems are taking that sentiment to heart when it comes to addressing the nationwide shortage of qualified nurses.
The nursing deficit in the U.S. is quickly becoming a crisis as the healthcare system is strained by an aging population and increased access to public healthcare. With more than 500,000 RNs expected to retire by 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a need for 1.1 million new RNs to avoid a further shortage.
Some healthcare providers are adopting nurse residency programs—or “grow your own” nurse programs—to treat this burgeoning problem. These programs help recent nurse graduates transition into clinical practice and give them the opportunity to build confidence and skills while working alongside seasoned RNs.
The benefits for hospitals implementing these programs, as well as the repercussions for not following suit, are becoming too great to ignore.
“It’s gone beyond organizations thinking ‘this is a something we should consider’—they just have to do it in order to continue to deliver care” says Liz Bickley, senior vice president of healthcare client services for Cielo, a strategic recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) partner.
“Some organizations are cautious because they’re concerned about their ability to support those new graduate nurses; they’re concerned about burning out their experienced nurses by not having good, experienced nurses alongside of them,” Bickley explains. “And, of course, ultimately they’re concerned about patient care.”
But, she continues, “Organizations who are sticking their heads in the sand and saying, ‘We just need more experienced nurses’ or ‘We can only take 20 new graduates a year,’ are setting themselves up for an even harder time in the future because we know that there are not enough experienced nurses out there to replace the number of nurses who are retiring, and also there are not enough people coming through the education systems to meet that need.”
Though the long-term benefits of nurse residency programs are plentiful, it can be challenging for an organization to build, often from the ground up, a program that will enable new graduate nurses to thrive.
“New graduate nurses don’t just come in and hit the ground running. It takes some investment,” Bickley explains. “And a lot of our experience in getting people prepared and ready to do that has not been as simple as going out and recruiting nurses. It is making sure that you can build that infrastructure, the education element, the preceptor program to be able to support a more heavily weighted new graduate program than often organizations have today.”
In order to ease the transition, Bickley recommends that HR leaders bring together the different areas of their organizations that can help implement a program. Problems usually arise when people try to work in a silo, she says.
Talent acquisition and HR play a key role in launching a successful nurse residency program. Bickley offers these best practices:
- Partner with learning and development department to ensure the program has robust multi-specialty education tracks.
- Work with department leaders to ensure the program has enough trained and engaged nurse preceptors.
- Focus on the onboarding and orientation process updating as needed to be more relevant to the new graduate audience and need.
- Strengthen workforce planning to ensure that organizations maintain a good balance of seasoned and newer nurses.
“Ultimately, what you’re trying to do here is ensure that the staffing ratios are appropriate and that you avoid burnout of the people who are there today,” Bickley adds.
She also notes the importance of ensuring that nurses are working alongside great leaders.
“That’s always one of the first things that we talk to organizations about,” Bickley says. “Nurses really want to work for great leaders. Nurses who are welcomed into an organization as new graduates, who have a really robust continued education program, who are supported appropriately from a preceptor program, tend to stay. So if you can get that mix of all of those things, you stand a better chance of retaining your people.”
And this, of course, is the ultimate goal for organizations seeking to get ahead of the nurse shortage problem and improve healthcare for all.