NEW ORLEANS—Development of a structured, comprehensive program for new graduate nurses can help to increase recruitment and retention at oncology units, according to an article presented at the Oncology Nursing Society 37th Annual Congress.

At Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, three inpatient oncology units were experiencing staffing shortages. The annualized turnover rates for 2010 were close to 12% and the annualized vacancy rate was more than 29%. Despite recruitment efforts, experienced oncology nurses were not applying for vacant positions.

In response to staffing needs, the oncology leadership group at the hospital developed a 6-month residency program for new graduates based on research they conducted on existing nursing residency programs throughout the United States. While in the past new graduates completed a 3-month orientation that was often lacking in structure and a dedicated coordinator, the group hoped to implement a training program that was defined and organized in nature.

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After compiling the findings and integrating feedback from both novice and experienced nurses, the oncology nurse clinical specialists decided on a 6-month program that involved key components from their research. The new program was designed to include clinical rotations, classroom time, and shadowing experiences. The clinical nurse specialists also met with the residents on a weekly basis for several months, then biweekly, for critical thinking exercises.

After 3 ½ days interviewing more than 30 candidates, the top 20 were selected for the oncology residency program. Each nurse signed a 2-year contract and began the program in August 2010.

All 20 new graduate nurses enrolled in the program successfully completed orientation with a 100% retention rate, with several coming off orientation early and one extending orientation by several weeks. The original 20 nurses are approaching their 2-year anniversary at the hospital. Four new graduates were hired in March 2011 for the residency program. In addition, the hospital is currently training its fourth group of nurse residents for oncology, and other nursing specialties at Emory have developed similar residency programs based on the oncology program’s success.

“One thing we have noticed is that we needed to provide preceptors with more support and guidance,” the program leaders noted. They also stressed the great advantage of having a dedicated coordinator in place who could coordinate schedules and off-unit experiences and assist with teaching. The hospital plans to continue the program while implementing changes based on feedback they have received to improve the program for future nurses. ONA