Why 1 hospital launched a 'designated education unit' for new nurses

Mercy Fort Smith (Ark.) Hospital has launched a new 18-bed unit, which will have a 4:1 patient to nurse ratio. The unit is specifically designed to provide close contact, hands-on training for new graduate nurses.

The new unit will provide care for medical telemetry patients. On the Designated Education Unit, one Mercy nurse will be assigned as a preceptor for two students. The team will care for up to four patients at a time. A clinical rotation preceptor will also be on the unit for additional oversight. 

Unlike traditional clinical models, "this allows for additional support and enhanced communication for our patients and gives the nursing student a more enhanced learning experience with at-the-elbow support and instruction from experienced Mercy nurses," Stephanie Whitaker, MSN, RN, chief nursing officer at Mercy Fort Smith told Becker's.

Ms. Whitaker said after the pandemic, many new nurses have vocalized not being as comfortable transitioning from their education into full-time practice. The pandemic also took a toll on current nurses, and the hospital was in search of a way to address both issues head-on.

"Graduate nurses voiced they were not as confident as they hoped they would be and missed opportunities to refine skills because the pandemic limited access to the hospital setting. Experienced nurses were also struggling with resiliency and were seeking a way to bring joy back into their practice," Ms. Whitaker said. "We explored the nursing literature and evidence-based practice to help us identify strategies for each of these concerns, and it was clear a dedicated education unit could help address both needs."

Right now, Mercy Fort Smith will focus on rotating as many new nurses as possible through the designated educated unit as part of their medical surgical clinical rotation, and if interest in the program grows, eventually a selection process may be necessary to implement, she explained. 

"Dedicated education units are not a new concept; the evidence shows they started in the 1990s, but sustainability requires hospital administrative support and strong collaboration and communication with academic partners to ensure success," Ms. Whitaker said. "We will closely monitor the metrics around this program and plan to expand this to other units within the health care facility and possibly utilize this across the Mercy ministry. This has the potential to significantly grow and sustain the nursing pipeline, which is essential for Mercy Fort Smith to sustain our high-quality health care."


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