Just weeks after graduation, new nurses immediately become the latest additions to the frontlines of patient care.
Stress caused by long work hours, staff shortages and high levels of turnover sometimes can be too much for nurses entering the profession, up to 60% of whom decide to leave their first full-time nursing job before they have spent a year in the position, according to a recent study published in AORN Journal.
Thanks to new research from the University of Florida College of Nursing, these first-year nurses may soon be supported by initiatives aimed at increasing their job satisfaction, thus improving their retention rates. And in some instances, the support already exists.
To research how to best ease the burdens placed on first-year clinicians, Clinical Assistant Professors Bryce Catarelli, Patrick Nobles, and Clinical Lecturer Michael Aull, looked to the recent past to discover how new nursing graduates fared during one of the profession’s most trying times —the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the faculty, the pandemic transformed nursing altogether, making it even more important to provide both students and new nurses with extra assistance to help them adapt to the changing profession.
“Our newest nursing graduates need additional support during this formative time in their careers,” Nobles said. “We hope to invest in the next generation by preparing a foundation for their futures.”
After asking 400 clinicians across the UF Health system to complete a survey describing their experience at the bedside in 2021, the team zeroed in on responses from new graduate nurses. They found that the newest nurses reported that they felt resilient when facing stress. Despite this self-reported belief, they were at a higher risk of work-related burnout compared with more experienced nurses, which could eventually contribute to increased turnover and job dissatisfaction.
These findings, which were published in the Journal of Nursing Administration and also featured by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, led the researchers to question how health systems could specifically reduce burnout and increase nurse retention by promoting resiliency.
Their answer? Graduate nurse-centered strategies, such as incorporating mentoring/residency programs and implementing widespread changes to workplace culture. By building a network of senior nurses and creating mental health support programs for new graduates, health systems can support the transition to clinical practice and improve the likelihood that they remain in their first nursing role for an extended period of time.
“Turnover becomes a huge problem for institutions where the overall ‘working experience’ is not positive,” Aull said. “If health systems can find new ways to meaningfully integrate these support systems at both the unit and hospital level, that would make a world of difference in improving retention rates.”
The team has since presented its findings at the UF Health Nursing Research and Innovation Conference, in addition to several local, regional and national conferences. The research team found that the profession’s newest nurses at UF Health already had access to resources to help ensure their success.
UF Health provides wellness resources, incorporates a new graduate nurse residency program, and encourages open communication to determine how best to manage nurse-to-patient ratios, working to ensure both a safe workload and work environment for nurses caring for patients at the bedside.
The UF College of Nursing’s Academic Practice Unit at UF Health Jacksonville also provides nursing students the opportunity to work one-on-one with staff nurses on a hospital unit, encouraging success in clinical practice and building a mentoring relationship before they receive their Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
“It’s encouraging to see that our clinical partners already have many of these best practices in place, providing the opportunity for new graduate nurses to excel in their careers,” Catarelli said. “We’re excited to push for these changes to be made at health systems across the board, so that locally and nationally, we can positively impact new graduate nurses in their first few years of practice. They are the future of the nursing profession, and we want to do our best to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful.”