As the nursing workforce ages, many experienced nurses will face the decision of leaving the profession or retraining for roles that require less physical exertion. For some, acquiring new skills and switching to a new setting might seem daunting. The Nursing for Life: RN Career Transition Program aims to smooth the way and ease the nursing shortage by keeping talent within the profession.Teresa Wehrwein, RN, PhD
The goal is to keep trained nurses in the work force, says Teresa Wehrwein, RN, PhD, CNAA, associate professor and assistant dean for professional partnerships and faculty practice at the Michigan State University (MSU) College of Nursing. “There is some reason to believe individuals might be willing to stay on in a practice role, maybe not full time, but in a practicing role in one of these community settings and extend their career life and, therefore, in the short term have a good impact on the nursing shortage,” Wehrwein says.
According to the “Michigan Center for Nursing Survey of Nurses 2007,” about 27% of active RNs who renewed their licenses in 2007 are age 55 or older. The average age of active RNs licensed in Michigan is 47.3 years. About 38% of all active RNs told surveyors they plan to stop practicing nursing in one to 10 years.
“Nurses want to continue to contribute to the profession, but many cannot continue in roles [that require] physical effort,” says Jeanette Klemczak, RN, BSN, MSN, chief nurse executive of the Michigan Department of Community Health, one of the program’s many community partners. “There’s a real desire to keep going.”
And those nurses are needed. The Michigan Nurses Association estimates the state will be short 8,000 nurses by 2010. MSU assessed work force data and found a need for more nurses in home care, hospice and palliative care, long-term care and ambulatory care. Nursing for Life will retrain nurses to work in these areas.Kathleen Kessler, RN, MSN, APRN BC
“Most of these settings like to hire nurses who have experience,” says Kathleen Kessler, RN, MSN, APRN BC, Nursing for Life project manager. “This is a way for them to do that.”
A collaborative initiative
The Nursing for Life two-year pilot program is one of the first 10 projects nationwide funded by Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future, a grant program sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Northwest Health Foundation. The grant program partners with local foundations to create grassroots strategies to address the nursing shortage.
For the transition program, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) Foundation and the MSU College of Nursing teamed up to develop a pilot. The BCBSM Foundation contributed $125,000, and Partners provided $250,000.
As a secondary goal, MSU will collaborate with Klemczak and other nursing leaders to encourage Michigan foundation support for nurse workforce issues.
How it will work
Nurses enrolled in the Nursing for Life program will complete an online, self-paced course, with core and specialty content, followed by an 80- to 120-hour clinical practicum in their home community.
The curriculum was developed by MSU faculty who met with nurses currently working in each of the specialty areas — home care, hospice, long-term care, and ambulatory care. These specialty nurses explained the specific skills needed in each setting.
Core modules cover multidisciplinary communication, pain management, pharmacology, culturally competent care in a community setting, geriatric assessment and introduction to taking online courses.
Kessler anticipates that it will take eight to 12 weeks to finish the core modules and another four weeks for the modules devoted to a chosen specialty.
“Once they finish the theory piece, they move into a clinical practicum,” Kessler says. “That will give them an opportunity to see someone in the role they selected, and they will have a group of experiences designed mutually by the preceptor, the faculty here and the student.”
For example, nurses in a home care setting will watch an experienced nurse make visits. Once ready, the nurse in training will make visits under the guidance of a preceptor. All participants must have an RN license, so they can practice independently in the field. Preceptors will receive a two-day training course.
Pilot program moves forward
The pilot groups for ambulatory care and hospice/palliative care began in February, and the home care and long-term care pilot programs begin this month. Participating nurses will receive continuing education credits and a certificate upon completion of the program. Nurses in the pilot program will take the course free of charge, in exchange for providing extensive feedback and evaluations. Later, MSU will charge tuition of about $1,000 to $1,200. Wehrwein anticipates the pilot will end in September, and the program will be available to all nurses at that time.
Most of the nurses who have applied currently are working and are looking for something to do in the future. Some are retiring from hospital or administrative roles they have held for a number of years.
“They tend to be our target audience, which would be a baby boomer-aged person thinking about making a transition and being able to continue to work, although not in the same way as most of their career,” Kessler says.
Klemczak says many of the nurses she talks with want to continue their careers, and she believes the Nursing for Life program will generate much interest. “There is an incredible clamor for this,” she says.