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Weiss Memorial Hospital Proves Nurse Retention can be a Reality

Mar 23, 2011

As job market rebounds, hospital attracts new nurses & nurtures their careers

For more information, contact:
Karyn Odway
(312) 479-1271

For more information about Weiss, contact:
Catherine Gianaro
(773) 564-7285

CHICAGO—March 23, 2011—In the midst of a poor economy, Weiss Memorial Hospital has found success in its premiere nursing recruitment and retention program, Nurturing the New Grad Nurse. And now it’s furthering the careers of nurses through a preceptorship program and an advanced degree course—all enhancements resulting in improved patient care.

“We’re meeting real patient needs through this program and developing future nursing leaders by offering a master’s degree tract,” said Stella Hatcliffe, R.N., M.Sc., vice president of patient care services and professional development at Weiss.

Studies have shown mentoring and supporting new nurse graduates not only eases the transition from school life to real life, but also engages nurses with the hospital and gives them confidence to do their job. Advancing seasoned nurses academic journey helps to continue the nurturing cycle for new nurses.

“Had it not been for the new grad program, I doubt that I would be where I am today,” said Naomi Schenk, RN, a nurse in the cardiology unit at Weiss, who now has nearly four year’s experience at Weiss. She was part of the first group of new grad nurses to go through the program—developed by the Missouri Nurse Preceptor Academy—in July 2007 and stepped up as a preceptor this past fall.

Nurturing the New Grad Nurse is a 12-week program for recently hired registered nurses, who are paired with seasoned, experienced nurses to help them learn the hospital setting and network with other hospital professionals. The new nurses learn in real situations alongside their mentors. They see first-hand work flow organization, time management and connecting with patients and families. Once a week, the new nurses meet in the classroom for a lecture series in which they learn about the day-to-day work of others in the hospital including physicians, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, physical therapists, social workers and even senior leadership.

The new nurses also engage in “reflective practice,” a time in group sessions when they share challenges they encountered on the job and how they handled them. It gives the participants a chance to decompress, socialize and meet new people.

90 nurses have gone through the program, and Weiss has retained 80 percent of them. Weiss has served as a pilot site for Vanguard Health System, which owns 18 hospitals across the country including Weiss.

Last spring, Weiss added a preceptor component to the program, which trains a mentored “new nurse” graduate to supervise new nurses in practical clinical and patient settings. So far, 10 nurses have “graduated” from the preceptor training program, giving these relatively novice nurses who have demonstrated leadership abilities a new level of confidence and a deeper look into patient care.

“The preceptors better understand how to read a patient’s behavior or mood, deal with stressful staff issues and ask questions to develop critical thinking,” Hatcliffe added.

“I realized how much help I could be to new grads because I had been in their shoes not too long ago,” Schenk said. “I was well suited in knowing what a new grad needed to be successful. I can help new grads overcome their fears while gaining experience.”

For years, the national healthcare system has been plagued by an overall 35 to 60 percent new nurse turnover rate. After nearly four years of the Nurturing the New Grad Nurse program in action, fewer nurses are burning out on the job. Weiss has been able to keep 80 percent of the nurses who “graduated” from its ranks.

“We have a talented group of nurses and we want to show how much we value them,” Hatcliffe noted. “The preceptor training is the next step of career development. It helps us develop leaders for the future and fulfill our strategic goal to invest in our employees and promote internally.”

“I feel like an important member of the team whose ideas are valued,” Schenk said. “I’ve remained committed to Weiss with these leadership opportunities.”

For nurses who have more tenure  at the hospital, Weiss now offers a master’s degree in nursing through the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Nursing, an online course, which gives potential nursing administrators the flexibility to stay on top of their clinical practice or management positions while advancing their career.

Hatcliffe is among the 15 nurses at Weiss starting the master’s degree program this academic year. “I’m doing it for personal and professional development. I want to ensure professional education at work is current and this course keeps me updated with literature and innovative thinking. I also want to serve as model to other nurses to show they can do it too.” 

The two nursing career enhancement tracts position Weiss well as the healthcare industry prepares for another nursing shortage, which eased a bit the past couple of years—the result of experienced nurses postponing retirement because of plummeting 401(k) portfolios or a spouse losing their job. The recession also brought hiring freezes to healthcare facilities across the country, and many are still in effect. But as the economy improves and the demand for care to an aging population increases, a great number of nurses will be needed again.

“Weiss plans to continue to attract a talented pool of nurses and give them the support they need to thrive,” Hatcliffe said. “We want them to feel a real sense of satisfaction, and personal growth on the job from the beginning of their career to the end of it.”