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December 7, 2010 > From Nursing School Grads to Practicing R.N.s

From Nursing School Grads to Practicing R.N.s

Hospital's In-House Program Prepares New Nurses for Their Role

In many cases, newly hired employees find themselves navigating their new jobs with an employee manual and perhaps an encouraging word from a manager. For registered nurses, whose primary responsibility is direct patient care-often in a life-saving capacity-Washington Hospital's leadership team decided to offer much more.

To bridge the gap for newly hired nursing school graduates, Washington Hospital's administration has put in place a program to make sure the hospital's nurses are familiar with everything from the patient populations they serve to the equipment and other employees they will come into contact with in their day-to-day operations.

Learning the ropes

"The new graduate program is meant to train nurses who have just come out of school and just received their licenses-essentially new graduates or six months of school or less," says Nurse Manager Sam Avila, R.N., who coordinates the program. "These nurses have just passed their R.N. boards and our intent is to train them to become practicing R.N.s on the nursing floors.

The program lasts between eight and 10 weeks, with two and a half weeks of classroom training spread throughout a preceptorship, a period of time in which an experienced nurse is teamed with a new graduate to work together so that the less experienced person can learn and apply knowledge and skills in the practice setting with the help of the more experienced person.

"Not all hospitals have a dedicated program like we do," Avila says. "I think it's really important for us to have the program for both the clinical training and ongoing emotional support that new grads receive, because it is a big adjustment going from student nurse to practicing R.N."

During this time, new nursing school graduates learn more about the patient populations they will come into contact with, as well as the different departments they might work in, from wound and ostomy care to joint surgery.

"If we have changes in patient populations, the new grad program changes to address these new needs in response to what's happening in the hospital," Avila says. "While the core concepts are the same, no two programs are ever identical."

Patient care from A to Z

What doesn't change is the program's comprehensive nature.

Newly hired nurses who go through the program undergo clinical training with practitioners from all over the hospital, including respiratory therapists and dietitians, as well as learning about quality and patient safety initiatives; safety standards; policies and procedures, including compliance with evidence-based protocols; as well as appropriate communication practices.

"When the new graduates complete the program, they're more comfortable and confident to work with complex cases involving patients with multiple health issues," according to Avila. "You can't just go from nursing school and go jump right into acute care practice. These nurses are going from being students to taking care of someone's family member. We're there to provide the extra information and guidance to be a successful nurse.

"Washington Hospital is very lucky to have the support of the administration for this type of program because it's a big commitment to the community to provide adequate, safe, patient-first patient care."

Jennifer's story

Jennifer Yuhas, R.N., a newly hired Staff Nurse I at Washington Hospital can attest first-hand to the value of the New Nursing Graduate Program.

Jennifer, who graduated from Sonoma State University with her degree in nursing, was hired at Washington Hospital in September and will complete the new grad program in December.

"What has been really helpful during the classroom training is that Sam brings in guest speakers, like respiratory therapists and dietary specialists, which it makes it easier for me to interact with them and learn about the resources we can offer them as nurses and what they offer us," Jennifer says. "Also, learning about Washington Hospital's individual polices and practices clears up some of the gray areas as a new grad. Other than that, the support that I get in the program is just great."

Yuhas says that having a more experience nursing available to support the new graduates has been priceless.

"It's helpful to have a mentor, someone to go to if you're stuck, and to know that you don't have to be afraid to ask questions," she points out.

Relationships she's built with her peers have been just as important.

"When my preceptor is not available, I can always ask a new grad," she says. "My classmates are people I can go get a cup of coffee with and who understand what it's like being a new nurse. I think those relationships are going to be really long lasting. I think that's jut how Washington Hospital is based on talking to nurses four or five years into their careers. They say, 'I still talk to those people from my new grad class.'

"Everyone has really good relationships here-the nurses, the certified nursing assistants, the physicians, the housekeeping staff. It's been a very positive work environment."

Jennifer's path toward a career in nursing began in eighth grade and she hasn't looked back since.

"My uncle was diagnosed with brain cancer and was in the hospital for surgeries, rehab, procedures and radiation treatment, and I saw all the different nurses he had interaction with," she says. "The hospice nurses really had an impression on me and I said to myself, 'I want to make some patient's life easier-do something for a family, repay the favor.' I decided in high school that I would take all these science classes and then I went to Sonoma State and graduated with my degree in nursing."

Jennifer, who's originally from Livermore, says her path to working at Washington Hospital feels a little destined.

"I was actually born at Washington Hospital," she says. "My mom's always told me all my life that the nurses and doctors were great at Washington Hospital. It's funny how I ended up there after all this time. My mom drove me to my final interview and she said she would have been shocked if the doctor had said, 'This baby would be working here in 22 years!'"

After completing most of her new graduate training, Jennifer has some of her own advice to pass along to future new graduates.

"Don't be afraid to ask questions," she says. "I've always felt intimidated by more experienced members of the health care team like nurses and doctors, but I've been surprised when people say, 'That's not a stupid question; it's a good question.' To anyone starting the new grad program I would say, 'Don't be afraid to ask for help.'"

To learn more about careers in nursing at Washington Hospital, visit and click on the "Careers" tab.

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