Increases in older and sicker patients paired with decreases in patient discharge times and staffing levels have noticeably increased the stress levels of registered nurses in acute-care settings, particularly those early in their careers. Newly hired nurses require longer orientation and more support and yet continue to peel off from acute-care settings.
Eastern Connecticut Health Network, a 351-bed system with facilities in Manchester and Vernon, Conn., partnered with the University of Connecticut's School of Nursing this summer to give student interns the chance to practice complex nursing skills, rather than functioning strictly as a certified nursing assistant. Eastern Connecticut has won the Spirit of Excellence Award for Team.
Under the strict supervision of a preceptor, which the state requires for the program to proceed as designed, nursing students care for patients on ventilators, perform intravenous therapy, sharpen their assessment skills and teach patients about their diseases. "If you're just a certified nursing assistant, you can't do any of those things," says Rosanna Colangelo, clinical instructor for the internship, who has a joint appointment at the system and the nursing school. "The students really, really loved that aspect of the internship."
Laura Dzurec, dean of the nursing school, was receptive when Colangelo approached her in January and won approval from her faculty. "You cannot practice nursing as a CNA, period," she says. "So many of the skills they're getting in school cannot be used in the summer. Rosanna said, `This is a little silly. We ought to be able to integrate this.' "
Five students participated in the program in ambulatory services, the emergency department, general surgery, intensive care and maternity. On an 11-item survey with a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 the highest, three of the students rated the program an average of 4, one gave it a 3.8, and another gave it 3.7.
The interns are under no obligation to work for the system when they graduate. "We as an organization felt that while this would benefit ECHN, ultimately it will benefit nursing," says Sharon Adams-Babineau, vice president of patient-care services.
Dzurec suspects the experience has built considerable loyalty. "Our students, when they graduate, decide where to work based on who was nice to them," she says. "From my perspective, the beauty of this thing is that it's free-standing. ... It's thoughtful and it is where the (nursing) discipline is headed."
Colangelo says she was pleased to hear nurse managers say they would consider hiring the interns right out of school. "It was wonderful to hear that the managers thought that much about what they had learned and the skills they had built," she says. "Usually, you need a year or two on a regular (medical-surgical) floor."