Specialty Training for Novice Nurses

by, Heretha Hankins, MSN-Ed, RNC

Twenty-five years ago when I was a young, new nurse there was a lot of talk about the nursing shortage. Every nursing magazine speculated on how patient care would suffer if we didn’t train more nurses. Several years ago I looked around and saw tangible evidence of this looming shortage for the first time in my career. At first limitless overtime was available and then came incentive pay and bonuses as an effort to cover the shortage. Finally, nursing broke the unwritten golden rule. We started accepting new grads into specialty areas.

When I started nursing school I knew I wanted to work in L&D but my instructors explained that I must first work “general nursing” (med-surg) before I could even consider a specialty like OB. Today there is such a low pool of applicants for multiple open positions we are seeing a growing trend of graduate nurses entering specialty areas. After six months they are expected to possess critical thinking skills; one year later they train another new graduate. As we see an increase in the hiring of graduate nurses into critical practice areas such as OB, ICU and ER there needs to be a change to the training approach. The “each one teach one” approach is no longer effective.

OK, so here is where I want to really talk to nurse leaders. How do you know when a nurse is successfully trained? Can you measure the progress? Is the retention rate of your unit impacted by turn over from the nurses with less than two years experience? When I asked myself these questions I was inspired to design and implement the Perinatal Nurse Training Program (PI.N.T).

Developing the Program

The PINT Program is a 16 week program which includes 72 hours of didactic information in the classroom setting with a curriculum and reading assignments. Peer-reviewed books are required purchases (build a practice on research not hearsay). We also incorporate AWHONN’s basic and intermediate fetal monitoring courses into the training to assure the information received is consistent with national standards. Yes, it sounds and looks like going back to school.  Didactic hours are spaced throughout the 16 weeks building on concepts as the nurse builds in practice.

Use of a focus plan and checkpoints makes progress measurable. The checklists are tasked-based because a new learner has concrete thought processes. Consistent feedback in 1:1 sessions helps to promote progress or strategize about practice opportunities. In the last four weeks there are two to three novice nurses assigned to one preceptor. This gives the novice an opportunity to strengthen a solo practice while keeping that preceptor safety net nearby. After the 16 weeks, periodic monitoring is used to assure practice assimilation, answer questions and offer support. By the one year anniversary of practice the novice must pass the National Certification Corporation (NCC) exam for fetal monitoring to be considered successful.

Prior to PINT unit based orientation was largely completed with using preceptor pairing. Small amounts of didactic were used but were generally attached to vendor presentations for products used in the practice. Many things such as fetal monitoring and high risk pregnancy care were covered by use of self-learning modules. It is also worth noting, prior to my arrival the educator position was vacant for approximately five years.

Road Blocks

The greatest obstacle identified was seen in the change with preceptor assignments. Traditionally a novice was assigned to one preceptor for all of orientation. In the PINT program the preceptor assignment is fluid but generally stable for two weeks. My philosophy for this approach is based in inherent human error and autonomous practice. No one is perfect and sometimes what works well for one may not work for another. Seeing multiple different practices allows the novice to build his/her own autonomous practice.

Measuring Success

My measurement of success for this program is in the pass rate of the exam and the increase retention of new hires on the unit. With a total of 71 novices trained to date we boast a 98% pass rate by one year of practice on the NCC exam, a two year retention rate of 75% and a one year of near 90%. Program evaluation surveys provide feedback from the participants regarding what they gained and what could be improved. The participants noted the program worked well for them and they appreciated the structure. I am most proud to know that this leads to increased patient safety and healthy moms and babies. As I recall that was what motivated me to want this practice when I was a new graduate nurse.

Advice For Nurses Wanting to Start A Specialty Training:

  • Provide didactic training on the routine patient type starting with normal before sending the novice to the unit or training on complex procedures.
  • Make time for didactic classroom throughout the process so time if given to build on concepts.
  • Start the process with cohorts so that each participant can connect with someone in the group.
  • Encourage journaling because it helps develop critical thinking.

HerethaHeretha Hankins MSN-Ed, RNC is a Professional Development Specialist at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, MD, affiliate of Trinity Health System. She is the creator/facilitator of the Perinatal Nurse Training (PiNT) Program which she has presented to the Central Virginia Nursing Staff Development Organization, Maryland Patient Safety Perinatal Collaborative and Trinity Health Perinatal Summit. With 20+ years of nursing experience she also freelances as a Nurse Education Consultant. Her professional passion is to train the best nurses to provide the best patient care. She is always willing to discuss this at HerethaHHankins@gmail.com or any other forum.

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