Hawaii’s major hospitals are collaborating to launch the first statewide nurse residency program this summer in an effort to keep more registered nurses in the profession.
The program, sponsored by the Hawaii State Center for Nursing, will give new graduates a chance to gain necessary experience to land a job in the competitive field, as well as train them in specialty areas they otherwise might not work in, according to Gail Tiwanak, the center’s executive director.
"The residency program really is intended to support new grads as they transition into their first professional position, usually in a hospital setting," she said. "One of the big benefits of this is to improve job satisfaction and increase retention rates within the organization and the community."
In the coming years, demand for nurses is projected to increase with the wave of baby boomers, including RNs and educators, set to retire.
National turnover rates for new RNs can be as high as 20 percent in the first 18 months on the job, Tiwanak said. There were no local figures available.
The residency program is a step to ensuring hospital staffing needs will be met.
"We are going to experience a significant need in the next five to 10 years or maybe sooner," Tiwanak said. "A big concern is the fact that you have an aging work force, especially at the academic programs because that’s where nurses are produced."
The participating employers include Hawaii Pacific Health, the Queen’s Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, Castle Medical Center and the quasi-public Hawaii Health Systems Corp. The University of Hawaii, Chaminade University and Hawaii Pacific University also are partners.
The group is spending $96,000 to launch the program, Tiwanak said.
RN graduates will be hired by the hospitals and be part of the staffing rotation over a six- to 12-month period depending on the employer.
"This gives them like an edge, a feel for not only the environment that they may or may not be interested in, it gives them a good on-the-job orientation that sort of fulfills that prior-experience requirement," said Miles Takaaze, HHSC spokesman.
"It not only trains, but also retains because they’re familiar and they’ll stay longer."
Statewide, registered nurse graduates in 2009 — the latest statistics available — totaled 609, down from 636 graduates in 2008, according to data from the Hawaii State Center for Nursing.
Though a looming shortage of nurses is projected in the near future, many recent graduates have been left without jobs, attributed in part to the down economy.
Darien Yanagida, a 2009 RN graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, has not been able to find a hospital job after five years in nursing school.
"We can’t even apply for RN positions because we need experience," she said. "We have to be ward clerks or CNAs (certified nurse assistants) to even try and get our foot into the hospital."
Part of the problem is the scarcity of new grad programs in Hawaii, she said.
"You have to have connections. That’s why we’re all frustrated, because we don’t have experience and you have to be hired with experience; you need a one-year minimum, too," Yanagida said. "Half of our graduates all go to the mainland."
Medical facilities and nursing schools have sought ways to keep recent graduates in the job pipeline.
Hawaii Pacific Health — operator of Straub Clinic & Hospital, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Pali Momi Medical Center and Wilcox Health — has created nursing academies and programs that bring graduates into nursing-related positions with the goal of moving them into registered nursing jobs once available. The organization said it typically hires between 60 and 70 nurse graduates per year.
The residency "will provide ongoing support to novice nurses and help them successfully transition to independent practice," Art Gladstone, HPH chief nurse executive, said in a statement. "Such programs are showing promising results, and hospitals across the nation are beginning to see improvement in nurse retention."
One-third of the 90 to 100 nurses hired by Queen’s yearly are new graduates, according to Cindy Kamikawa, vice president and chief nursing officer. The organization plans to hire at least 30 graduates in the upcoming year at a rate of $34.24 an hour, she said.
Hawaii Health Systems expects to hire 10 RNs at Kona Community Hospital and Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua, an urgent care facility in Honokaa on the Big Island, according to Sandi McFarlane, HHSC personnel program manager.
"Most hospitals are reluctant to hire new grads because they lack the experience, but HHSC has decided to hire new grads because where are they going to get the experience, especially on the neighbor islands," she said. "This way, the hospitals develop their own employees and provide training in specialty areas (needed at the facility)."
About 25 percent of registered nurses at HHSC — or close to 275 — will be eligible to retire in the next five to 10 years.