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VUMC welcomes largest group of new nurse residents

Jul. 16, 2020, 9:33 AM

A heavy dose of virtual meetings helped VUMC’s Nurse Residency Program welcome its largest cohort ever — more than 350 nurse residents.
A heavy dose of virtual meetings helped VUMC’s Nurse Residency Program welcome its largest cohort ever — more than 350 nurse residents.

by Matt Batcheldor

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Nurse Residency Program is facing a unique challenge this summer — welcoming more than 350 nurse residents, its largest cohort ever, while drastically altering the program to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

VUMC’s Office of Nursing Education and Professional Development was in the middle of interviewing more than 1,300 applicants for the highly competitive program in March when the pandemic hit. Suddenly, interviews shifted to a virtual platform requiring interviewers and candidates to adapt. Licensure and testing requirements have been adjusted as students suddenly weren’t able to meet requirements due to COVID-19-related delays.

“Our nurse residents are coming from 38 states and Washington D.C. and 136 different nursing programs,” said Susan Smith, MSN, RN, NPD-BC, FNP, director of the Nurse Residency Program.

“Each of them uniquely had an experience in the last few months that changed their final clinical experiences, their graduation and the end of their nursing education career.”

VUMC’s 12-month Nurse Residency Program supports new RNs as they transition from student to professional nurse. The program, which began in 2008, supports the development of 300 to 500 effective, competent and committed nurses each year. Nurse residents are asked to make a two-year commitment to VUMC.

As VUMC prepares to welcome the new nurse residents on July 20 and July 27, it is anticipating a much different onboarding experience.

Normally, the cohort would be welcomed and spend a week together, bonding and learning the foundations of VUMC, before splitting into different entities and departments.

This year, the group will be welcomed with blended in person and virtual sessions. In-person orientations have been staggered so no more than 25 nurse residents are together at once. Groups will meet at different times, in person and virtually. When together, all nurse residents will wear masks and practice appropriate social distancing.

Many of the connections that are so important for new nurse residents have formed over a private Facebook group that they were invited to join.

“There are a lot of activities to build that community virtually, so that when they’re together in person, they recognize each other and build relationships,” Smith said.

Smith acknowledged that many of the nurse residents, most of whom recently received undergraduate degrees, are anxious about the new reality of the virus.

“As a team, we’ve been doing open office hours virtually for them, letting them call in on Zoom and ask questions of us as a program as well as sending frequent communication via email with updates,” she said.

Adapting an established program on the fly has been challenging, but its longstanding structure and support from leadership has made the job easier, Smith said. Just last year, the program was accredited with distinction as a Practice Transition Program by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation in Practice Transition Programs.

The process to receive the accreditation solidified a structure that made the transition smoother, she said.

The program’s structure gives nurse residents specific education and skills training to assist them in developing effective decision-making, sound clinical judgement and professional performance.

Professional development workshops incorporate evidence-based practice to strengthen the nurse resident’s commitment to professional nursing as a career choice and target specific transitions in the first year of practice as a nurse.

Residents are recruited to staff units in each of Vanderbilt Nursing’s four entities — Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital, and, new this year, Adult Ambulatory Clinics. Five residents will begin this year in the latter entity.

“We have a lot of pieces and people in place that I think will help this onboarding process,” Smith said. “We want to make sure we’re supporting all our nurse residents as they begin their professional careers.”

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