Officials looking to increase number of Iowa nursing residency programs

BY BRIANNA JETT | MARCH 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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A revolution is beginning in nursing — nurses and health-care professionals across the state and throughout the nation are pushing for increased residency programs for new nurses.

Led by the Iowa Action Coalition, Iowa professionals are working to develop a residency program that can be adopted by any hospital or health-care facility. The programs will help new graduates make a successful transition from school to the work force.

“As they move out of the academic world and into the practice world, there is still a lot of steps to achieve comfort in that clinical arena,” said Rita Frantz, the co-leader of the Iowa Action Coalition on the Future of Nursing and the dean of the University of Iowa College of Nursing.

The Iowa Action Coalition’s development of the residency program is funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Iowa, along with 19 other states, will receive two-year grants of up to $150,000.

“We’ve established a task force that is working on developing a residency program that would assist nurses as they finish a nursing program,” Frantz said.

The coalition will use the money to fund the dissemination of the information they gather and the program they build. The members of the taskforce are volunteering their time.

The residency programs are in short supply in Iowa; only seven hospitals in the state have them: Genesis Medical Center, St. Luke’s Hospital, Iowa Health — Des Moines, the UI Hospitals and Clinics, Mercy Medical Center in Clinton, Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, and the Pella Regional Health Center.

Mercy Hospital in Iowa City hlopes to be added to that list.“It is absolutely a goal of ours — we will have one this year,” said Cindy Penney, the Mercy chief nursing officer. “We are in the process of developing it right now.”

Penney believes that residency programs help the nurses who go through them.

“Nurse residencies really have an impact on the confidence and the competency of new nurses,” she said. “It’s very, very valuable.”

Laura Malone, the vice president of nursing and clinical services at the Iowa Hospital Association, said the programs can help both with retention of new nurses, and helping them deal with changes in the health-care system.

“There is no way within the school they can teach them everything they need to know,” she said.

Frantz agreed that residency programs help keep nurses from leaving the profession.

“The employers were finding that many of these nurses would get so frustrated they would leave the work force, leave nursing,” she said.

Combined with a lot to learn and the recent changes in the health-care system, officials agree that there is a lot more stress on new nurses.

“I think the stresses they are under, the critical nature of the patients we are taking care of, the complexity they have to deal with — I think all of that adds to a real reality shock when they first embark on their first job,” Frantz said.

New nurses currently go through an orientation — a residency program would be more structured and last longer. It would aid new nurses in adjusting to the environment and learning the practical side of their practice. The programs might even save money.

Frantz said an orientation can cost around $60,000. If a residency program is put in place, the cost can become less because it would not have to be done as often.

Frantz said she believes that nursing residency programs will become more common.

“There’s a real spirit of cooperation across the state of Iowa,” she said. “Nurses and other stakeholders in health care are really coming together around the nurse-residency program.”

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