Program helps nurses’ transition

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    Christina Maaele knew she still had a lot to learn about nursing when she was licensed as an RN a year ago in March.

    Maaele, 35, was among the first New Mexico nurses to enroll in a one-year nurse residency program designed to help new nurses in small hospitals make the transition from student to professional nurse.

    “I wanted to learn things that I wasn’t necessarily exposed to in nursing school,” Maaele said recently at Lovelace Westside Hospital, where she works in a medical-surgical unit.

    Skills such as wound care, inserting IVs, reading charts and interpreting diagnostic tests and EKGs all found their way into a learning plan she drew up in June 2010 with her preceptor, Aaron Gallegos, a veteran RN who has served as her mentor over the past year.

    “The extra information I was given through the residency program has made me a little more confident – my skills a little stronger, a little quicker,” said Maaele, who received her associate degree in nursing last year from Central New Mexico Community College.

    Maaele, who graduated from the program this month, is one 22 New Mexico nurses who have participated in the rural nurse residency program since it was launched in January 2010.

    “I think it’s important for new nurses to have someone to assist them through the first year of nursing,” said Gallegos, a Lovelace Westside nurse.

    “They go to nursing school and they do have their licenses, but they still need some guidance,” he said. “Otherwise, they lose hope.”

    And, too often, new nurses switch employers or leave the profession within the first year, said Deborah Cassady, rural nurse residency program coordinator for the New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence.

    “In today’s complex environment, it’s not easy to transition from being a student to a full-up nurse,” Cassady said. A hospital can lose 30 percent or more of new RNs within the first two years, she said.

    “If (new nurses) aren’t supported, we can lose them.”

    Retaining nurses is vital for New Mexico, which ranks 49th among states in RNs per capita. In addition, about half the state’s approximately 20,000 RNs are older than 50. Rural hospitals, which often lack staff and resources for training, pose special challenges for new nurses, she said.

    Rural hospitals often don’t have specialty units, she said. “Rural nurses have to know about everything.”

    The nonprofit Center for Nursing Excellence obtained a federal grant, which pays the $5,000 annual cost per nurse resident and contracted with Idaho State University to oversee the program and provide online coursework for residents.

    The program is available to any New Mexico hospital with fewer than 200 beds. In addition to Lovelace Westside, hospitals in Shiprock, Grants and Taos now have nurse residents enrolled.

    “What they teach you in school and what you do in real life is totally different,” said Daisy Baca, 25, a new RN at Lovelace Westside who plans to enroll in the residency program later this month.

    — This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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