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Fellowship Program Improves New Nurse Retention, Nets Savings


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By Megan Murdock Krischke, contributor

August 30, 2013 - Why do new nurses often leave their jobs in the first year? And what can be done to keep their careers on track, improve nurse retention and keep the costly issue of turnover in check?

A new study published in the July-August issue of Nursing Economic$ may help to answer these questions.

A few years ago the North Shore-LIJ Health System (NSLIJ) in New York set out to identify some of the key reasons for nurse loss in the first year of employment and created a nurse residency program to counteract that loss. A team of nurses at NSLIJ monitored the before and after results in order to measure the efficacy of program.

M. Isabel Friedman: New nurses in the nurse fellowship program support each other.
M. Isabel Friedman, DNP, says the fellowship cohort provided a community that resulted in mutual growth and development for the program's new nurses.

“What we recognized was the way we were orienting new nurses wasn’t meeting the needs of this computer-minded generation,” said M. Isabel Friedman, DNP, MPA, RN, BC, CCRN, CNN, program director of nurse fellowship programs for the Center for Learning and Innovation at North Shore-LIJ Health System and the lead author on the study. “We created a program that met the needs of our new nurses and helped them transition from new graduate to functioning practitioner.”

This study looked particularly at the Pediatric Nurse Fellowship Program (PNFP) at Cohen Children’s Medical Center for pediatric critical care, pediatric emergency department and hematology/oncology specialties. This specialty orientation program was designed to bridge the gap between the novice nurse and the new high-acuity pediatric specialty while providing new graduate RNs with important mentoring and support tools.

“We found that when nurses feel supported, their loyalty to the hospital system increases,” Friedman explained. “Additionally, our new hires go through the fellowship program in cohorts of 5-10. The community and peer support offered by the cohort is a factor in increased retention.” 

The PNFP used a blended learning model. The core curriculum that nurses focused on during the initial weeks of the program was chosen from the curriculums offered by the national professional organization for each specialty. Each week had a theme, such as respiratory. Nurses then had seminars, skills and simulation labs, and clinical days that addressed that week’s topic. 

One of the key findings of the study was the effectiveness of having a senior nurse whose specific job it was to work with the cohort of fellows as they were transitioning to working in direct patient care.

“Study of our previous orientation showed that the transition from orientation to direct patient care in the six- to nine-month timeframe was when first year retention rates began to drop significantly. Having a senior nurse who could be by a nurse’s side as he or she did a new procedure, or easily available to ask questions, increased the confidence of our new nurses and the quality and safety of the care they provided.” Friedman stated. 

Friedman and her colleagues found that the nurse fellowship program decreased turnover significantly in the PICU and that general retention rates were statistically significant when comparing length of employment before and after the program was implemented. “As you can imagine this was good for the bottom line. When comparing expenses for the 2.5 years before instituting the PNFP and the 2.5 years following, there was a potential cost savings estimate of over $2 million.”

As an added bonus to increased nurse retention and cost savings, nurses who participated in the PNFP are showing a greater value for continuing their education through specialty certifications and pursuing master’s programs. 

“This program is easily adaptable for other specialties. We had our first residency program in adult critical care. In addition to the PNFP, we have fellowships in cardiac cath lab and labor and delivery nursing, as well as having a fellowship for nurse practitioners. Every fellowship cohort is altered to some degree in response to the feedback we receive from our fellows, preceptors and others involved in the program.” 

Donna M. Nickitas: Nurse fellowship programs can improve nurse retention and save money.
Donna M. Nickitas, editor of Nursing Economic$, says that the nurse fellowship study shows that programs supporting and training new nurses can have workplace and financial benefits.

“One reason this particular manuscript was a good fit for Nursing Economic$ is because it addresses the measures, methods and metrics. If we are going to make a business case for caring we have to make sure that we have the data that supports nursing’s work. This article showed in black and white how what they were doing helped the bottom line,” remarked Donna M. Nickitas, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CNE, editor of Nursing Economic$.

“It emphasizes what we have been saying all along: to have a healthy work environment, you have to have a healthy workforce,” Nickitas continued. “We need to make sure our nurses are more than adequately educated and trained. This study demonstrates that the PNRP is worth the investment in time, effort and finances.”

“I love the program and I love my fellows,” Friedman effused. “They are bright and capable young people and we owe it to ourselves to educate the next generation of people who are going to be taking care of us and our loved ones. It is a fabulous feeling to see their success and see them grow and become nurse managers and to see them continually aspire to bigger and better things.” 

For more information, see the Nursing Economic$ study:
Specialized New Graduate RN Pediatric Orientation: A Strategy for Nursing Retention and Its Financial Impact



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