In a past blog post, we talked about the role of the preceptor, mentor, and clinical coach in the transition of a new graduate nurse (NGN) to practice. As we discussed, there is confusion around this topic and the terms used to describe the support needed. Even though the literature suggests using the accurate support person, introduced at the appropriate time, using the proper term, for many healthcare organizations it's just not possible. One big barrier I hear from many nurse leaders is the fact that the nursing staff is so small, or the volume of NGNs is so large that it makes it impossible to have 3 distinct levels of support. To decrease the confusion, because many times a nurse will move fluidly between each role, we will refer to that support role as a ‘learning champion'. Building from what we discussed earlier, let's look at some best practices I uncovered while working on my master’s a few years ago:
#1 Recruit Appropriately – Any person filling the role of ‘learning champion’ should volunteer for the position and be committed to accommodating and working with the schedule of the NGN. Do not force people into these roles if they are not interested in nurturing and growing new nurses.
#2 Clearly Define Roles & Responsibilities – Each support person’s roles, responsibilities, and expectations must be provided to all parties involved, so they have realistic expectations of the relationship. Are there multiple individuals working with the NGN or will it be the same person? Either way, make sure everyone knows what they are responsible for and their role in supporting the new nurse.
#3 Training – You can’t throw an NGN into a position without training them, so you can't expect that all experienced nurses know how to be a good learning champion. Research surrounding learning champions overwhelmingly shows we need to train these nurses for the role. What should it look like? Training should involve practical skills needed to function in the specific role in which they are being placed. Programs should focus on building characteristics important to the specific role. Generally speaking, training should involve:
- Roles and responsibilities
- Teaching and learning principles
- Evaluation strategies
- Providing feedback
- Conflict management
- Time management
We can't just have them read this information either. It is extremely important to include active learning strategies and ample opportunity for the learner to practice effective techniques. They also need the opportunity to discuss challenges and find solutions with others in their same roles.
#4 Regular Contact – Expectations need to be set forth regarding regular contacts or meetings between the NGN and the learning champion. While there is no indication the meetings have to be formal, it is necessary that they meet on a regular basis and connect.
#5 Duration of Support – Overwhelming evidence suggests that ongoing support needs to be available for, at least, the first 12 months of the NGN’s practice AND that we should also begin thinking about what comes after nurse residency. How can we continue to support professional development in years beyond?
#6 Rewards and Recognition – Don’t forget to reward and recognize your learning champions. Nurturing and growing NGNs takes additional time and effort. Consider how you can recognize the important contributions of your learning champions.
Supporting NGNs during the first year takes a village. It can’t all fall on you as the nurse leader or nursing professional development practitioner, nor should it be left in the hands of the preceptors, mentors, or coaches. Long-term, effective support that starts on day one and continues beyond the first year of practice by trained learning champions positively impacts the commitment, job satisfaction, and retention of nurses. Take some time to evaluate your current state. What opportunities do you see to strengthen the support provided to your NGNs? If training is your biggest struggle, check out our Supporting Nurses course now available to anyone, anywhere.
Nicole Weathers, Program Manager, IONRP firstname.lastname@example.org
Weathers, N. (2014). The support role in transitioning new graduates [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Saint Joseph’s College.