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Empowering Nurses: UMass Memorial's First-Year Program Boosts Retention Rates

Empowering Nurses Amid Challenges: UMass Memorial's New Grad Program Fosters Resilience and Retention

Facing an unprecedented wave of nurses leaving the profession, UMass Memorial Medical Center's New Graduate Nurse Residency Program offers a beacon of hope and support. According to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, one in five Massachusetts nurses plans to leave the field within two years—a figure that has doubled in the last five years. This alarming trend is driven by mounting challenges such as unsafe assignments and staffing shortages.

“Nursing is hard, no doubt. You're with people at their most vulnerable, when they need someone the most,” says Madinah Xhemalallari, a registered nurse and member of the New Graduate Nurse Residency Program at UMass Memorial in Worcester.

To combat burnout and prepare new nurses for the realities of the profession, UMass Memorial’s 12-month residency program emphasizes education, community, and support. This approach has yielded impressive results, with first-year registered nurse retention rates consistently between 90-95%.

“UMass recognizes the need to mentor nurses, offering reduced patient assignments with a mentor to help them learn the ropes,” explains David Schildmeier, MNA director of public communications.

Customizable to individual needs, the program begins with a 13-week orientation featuring 40-hour workweeks on clinical units under the guidance of nurse preceptors. Weekly classes bridge the gap between nursing school and practical experience at the Medical Center. Post-orientation, residents meet monthly to discuss challenges and learn new skills, supported by nursing professional development partners.

Karen Uttaro, senior director for professional practice, quality, and regulatory at UMMC, has led the program since its inception in 2007. She highlights the consistent need for support among new grads, emphasizing the emotional aspect of the transition from nursing school to a complex healthcare environment.

“Nurses are experiencing more issues today—staffing cuts, unsafe patient assignments, a growing mental health crisis, and increased workplace violence—all contributing to burnout,” says Schildmeier. “Too many new nurses are sinking in an environment of sink or swim.”

To prevent burnout, the New Grad program maintains strong connections with residents, offering support and guidance when they feel overwhelmed. The sense of community within the program is crucial, as highlighted by Xhemalallari, who values the safe, supportive environment where no question is too small.

“Choosing a program where I knew I would feel safe and supported was key,” she says. Xhemalallari, who had done clinicals at UMMC and worked as a patient care assistant on the inpatient neurology and neurosurgery floor, saw firsthand the quality of nurses produced by the residency.

“I wanted a program that would make me a well-rounded nurse, not just someone who knows how to pass meds or document assessments,” she explains.

The residency program offers residents the chance to hone their skills, learn new techniques, and practice difficult conversations with coworkers. It also provides the flexibility for nurses to shift their focus as they gain more experience.

“You need to start somewhere. Get your sea legs, learn as much as you can, and then dream big and figure out the next chapter,” says Uttaro.

UMass Memorial's New Graduate Nurse Residency Program stands as a testament to the power of support and community in nurturing resilient, capable nurses ready to tackle the challenges of their profession. Source: Worcester Business Journal


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