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What Steps Can Nursing Schools Take to Make Graduates More Successful?

A nationwide nursing shortage has colleges and universities ramping up their programs in hopes of filling the need. And while they are succeeding in recruiting nursing students and producing graduates, the potential for burnout exists, especially during those first crucial years on the job. Some studies are showing a new-nurse turnover rate as high as 18 percent in the first year, and upwards of 30 percent in the second.

To combat that, schools are focusing on how their nursing students see life after graduation, rather than just on the necessary coursework and training a degree program entails. The goal, says Belmont University’s Dr. Cathy Taylor, is to understand what a new nurse needs to succeed beyond a strong grasp of nursing fundamentals. What has turned up is a strong desire for work-life balance.

“If you look at some of the information we get, in feedback from our graduates, they talk about realistic expectations as they step into the workplace but also how it is much harder than they expected. The work is just harder,” Taylor says, adding that Belmont has begun to focus on the issue of compassionate self-care for caregivers. “We think that is going to grow to be even more important over time, not just for nurses but for the entire healthcare team. We have a lot of work to do associated with not just creating those realistic expectation on our end and working more closely with our clinical partners to make sure that those are as realistic as we can make them, but also helping our students and graduates with organization skills that help them balance the demands of the workplace.”

Today’s students have unique strengths, challenges

Nursing schools will get an assist from the students themselves, Taylor notes, thanks to a tech-oriented mindset that previous generations didn’t have.

“It’s really awe-inspiring sometimes, the way they approach technology and just expect it to work in ways some of us wouldn't even dream about,” she explains. “They don’t have a memory of a world without Google and Wikipedia.”

However, that can be a double-edged sword A default to technology to solve problems and compete work tasks sometimes leads to a lack of conversational skills, which nursing schools will need to tackle to ensure a smooth post-graduate integration to a healthcare environment.

“Vital to safe, compassionate patient care is the skills associated with intentional listening and processing, and being able to communicate at a number of different levels,” Taylor says. “We have to help them recognize that. They are the social media generation, and that’s wonderful in many ways, but we have to focus on patient confidentiality and perhaps the darker side of that connectivity. We have to do that early and often to help them reinforce the differences and appropriate use of media.”

Roadmap forward requires strategic partnerships

Going forward, nursing schools and nurse educators will need to:

  • Create realistic expectations. What a new nurse wants should align with what the workplace expects, which can be achieved through more efficient workplace processes and procedures.
  • Provide realistic exposure to career paths and advancement options.
  • Encourage employers to focus on balance and well-being for the entire care team.
  • Strengthen academic and practice partnerships in order to create robust clinical networks for training.
  • Invest in professional development, so nurse educators are more in tune with the students they teach.
  • Find the proper balance between online and hands-on learning.

Most importantly, more opportunities for real-time learning need to be created so that nursing students get a sense of how difficult and demanding the job can be.

“We’re all in a fairly solid state of constant adaptation today, but I think we can do better with bridging the gaps between classroom and practice,” Taylor says. “Graduates need to enter the workforce with a solid skill set, but they also need to be more knowledgeable about real work. All new health professionals need some time for residency training and nursing is no different.”

About Cathy Taylor

Cathy R. Taylor, DrPH, MSN, RN, is dean and professor, Gordon E. Inman College of Health Sciences and Nursing at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. She has held faculty and administrative positions with the Tennessee Department of Health, Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Alvin C. York VAMC, and several Tennessee hospitals. She has consulted with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as China’s Ministry of Health.

This blog post is taken from a HealthStream Second Opinions Podcast that was recorded recently. To hear Dr. Taylor’s full discussion, link to her podcast here.

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