“There’s a lot of competition in this region for entry-level employees, so we started to look at how to better retain talent at EAMC,” said Karen Gresham, RN, director of education services. “Our frontline employees wanted opportunities for development and promotions, and we realized we had a gap in what we offered at the entry level.”
In 2005, EAMC began offering Catalyst Learning’s School at Work (SAW), a career development program for entry-level healthcare associates, to frontline employees to help them advance within the organization through clinical or administrative positions. Today, more than 130 employees have graduated from the program and more than half of those employees have been promoted. Ten percent of SAW students have gone on to earn a college degree.
In the beginning, Gresham admits, some managers were hesitant to recommend employees for SAW because they didn’t want to see talented employees leave their departments. That way of thinking, however, has shifted as managers experience firsthand the positive effect SAW has on employees as they develop skills in areas like medical terminology, soft skills and math.
“Employees are more confident, more engaged and they are speaking up,” said Gresham. “They are making a difference in their departments.”
The focus is now on EAMC’s mission for high quality, compassionate care, and the opportunity for SAW participants to grow into roles where they are providing better care for patients. Many SAW participants move into positions where they are interacting with patients and families, and they are expected to be good examples for compassionate customer service.
SAW graduates also have personal development plans with clear goals for what they want to accomplish. Managers recognize SAW graduates for more than just their job title. They are career-oriented employees who have computer skills, as well as important soft skills such as the ability to handle conflict and difficult situations.
EAMC has taken its commitment to entry-level employees a step further with a strong focus on “what’s next?” for SAW graduates. Will the employee go to school on a scholarship or with tuition reimbursement? How will the employee grow in his or her current role? Additionally, all SAW graduates go through EAMC’s internal financial university to learn how to manage their personal finances.
Building on their success, leadership development programs expand to frontline nurses
These high standards are the result of carrying out EAMC’s mission to deliver the best possible care, but much like EAMC’s experience with entry-level employees, the organization’s robust leadership development program wasn’t reaching frontline nurses or addressing the development needs of nurse managers and charge nurses.
Given their success with SAW, EAMC again turned to Catalyst Learning for a solution. Catalyst had recently launched NCharge, an evidence-based curriculum that gives first level supervisory nurses the skills they need to more effectively lead. The program was in line with EAMC’s leadership development and succession planning goals. NCharge is now a part of EAMC’s official succession plan.
“I just loved the program [NCharge] right away. It spoke to me as a nurse,” said Rosemary Cummings, director of medical surgical services. “When I started as a labor and delivery nurse, I was put in charge after being on the floor for three months or so. If I’d had some of this info, I could have done more with that position. So, I understood what we were lacking, not having anything for those supervisors.”
Recognizing the importance of having experience in a nurse leadership role, EAMC decided to have nurse managers like Cummings deliver the NCharge content. Each nurse manager is paired with an educator who can help deliver the curriculum. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
As with SAW, the success of NCharge is dependent on buy-in from managers and their willingness to allow frontline staff time away from their regular duties to complete the program. Once managers learned the objectives and how a leadership program developed specifically for nurses could make a difference, they were on board. This year, EAMC will also offer NCharge to managers to give them a firsthand understanding of what NCharge participants are learning.
EAMC is focused on results and a return on their investment. Two groups of 20 nurses have gone through the program and checkpoints are now in place to see if the nurses are using the skills they are learning.
Managers are seeing improved engagement and confidence among nurses and a positive change in communication with physicians and other employees. One participant shared with Cummings that she uses different parts of NCharge every day, for example finance and value-based purchasing skills that are typically learned on the job. Two nurses who have completed the program have been promoted to managers.
EAMC’s long-term goal for its nurse leadership development program is sustainability. Cummings and other instructors are planning lunch-and-learns with the two groups who have gone through NCharge to discuss how they are leveraging their new skills and which tools are most effective. The lunches will also be an opportunity for participants who formed a bond completing the program together to reconnect.
“We are not part of a big organization, but we offer quality healthcare here. We take a lot of pride in how we do things from a quality and cost perspective,” said Cummings. “It helps our frontline supervisors to see we’re investing in them. Development at this organization is an important piece of who we are. I think that’s why people stay.”
When the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) assessed its training needs in late 2015, nursing leadership recognized a gap in charge nurse development. With no formal tools in place and a somewhat inconsistent structure to the Charge Nurse position, UTMB decided to take action. Catalyst Learning's NCharge® courses were chosen to bring more commonality and consistency to this vital hospital role for both current and aspiring Charge Nurses. To date, 60 participants in three cohorts have completed all five NCharge courses: Charge Nurse Fundamentals; Critical Thinking; Leading Change in a Dynamic Climate; Supervisory Skills for Positive Outcomes; and Employee Engagement & The Patient Experience. Patient Care Facilitators (PCF), who have similar responsibilities to Certified Clinical Nurse Leaders, have also been included in this comprehensive professional development program. Because Charge Nurses often look to PCFs as experts on the patient care experience, UTMB determined that leadership training could equally benefit the PCF role, said Barbara Bonificio, Director of Nursing Excellence. Bonificio added that the NCharge program could become an important asset in a comprehensive health system initiative to increase employee engagement and patient satisfaction. In fact, UTMB leaders believed the program was valuable enough to include some of its relevant results at the unit level in UTMB's recent reapplication for Magnet status.
By putting in place formal training, UTMB hopes to make significant improvements not only in patient satisfaction, but also RN-to-RN communication, nurse sensitive indicators and workflow on the units. Comparisons of participant surveys conducted before classes began and after completion indicate positive movement in critical skills development across several of these areas.
Most notably, when asked if they were cognizant of the key drivers of positive patient experience, only about 65% of respondents strongly agreed when surveyed before taking classes. After completion of the program, more than 85% strongly agreed with that statement. When asked if they understood the linkage between employee engagement and the patient experience, nearly 90% strongly agreed after the course, up from less than 70% before entering the program. Also, only about 60% of respondents strongly agreed they were cognizant of key drivers of an engaged team prior to NCharge. That number jumped to close to 90% after completion.
A Timely Decision
When UTMB launched NCharge in December 2015, hospital staff was preparing to relocate to a new facility and would be faced with a new set of workflows. The program's Leading Change module proved to be timely, as all participants in the class were involved in this major move. One especially valuable component of the Leading Change module educated students about the change curve, demonstrating that workers at different levels in an organization also are at different stages of the curve, said Sharon Hensley, Nursing Program Manager. Those in leadership roles may have already processed a change, while frontline workers may have just been introduced to it. "That was very impactful for them," she said. Prior to taking the Leading Change class, only 55% of survey respondents strongly agreed they were cognizant of their role to assist the team with change management. After completion, nearly 90% strongly agreed. In terms of leadership, 100% of respondents reported strong agreement that they were cognizant of their influence on the attitude and tone of the unit, up from only 60% prior to the class.
Beyond these targeted outcomes, NCharge has been successful in helping to dispel some misconceptions and illuminate different perspectives. For example, before the courses, many participants believed value-based purchasing simply meant that if system departments bought in volume, UTMB got a discount. "The financial impact of value-based purchasing was a real eye-opener for everyone," said Bonificio. "I don't think they realized the significant dollar amounts attached to not being reimbursed, as well as the penalties for not reaching certain targets."
Because each cohort comprised a mix of experienced Charge Nurses and those hoping to land the role, NCharge was beneficial to both groups because they were exposed to each other's perspectives. In addition, the module on types of communication is already being put to use on the floor. "Participants learned the best way to talk to people whose communication styles are different than their own," said Bonificio. Now, graduates are "excited to share the skills they have learned with their units."
Looking to the Future
Reception to the NCharge program has been overwhelmingly positive overall, Hensley said. "There were significant dollars connected to the people being selected, and I think that was impressive to them - that we are investing in them." UTMB nurse leaders are happy with the program response and results so far, and plan to continue offering it to PCFs and Charge Nurses. In fact, they envision further advantages across other nursing roles. "It would be beneficial if all nurses could understand challenges their charge nurse colleagues face," according to Bonificio. "If everyone understood these challenges, it would make the units run much more smoothly."