During the winter surge of patients with COVID-19, hospitals had to find creative staffing solutions as nurses hit a mental and physical wall due to exhaustion, stress and grief.
As Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s patient census climbed, the team adapted their process of hiring recently graduated nurses. They hired nursing school graduates earlier than anticipated and trained them to work as nurse extenders throughout the hospital. In other words, new nurses would hit the ground running early and save the rest of their training for later, when things cooled down.
New grads, as opposed to nursing students, are licensed RNs. Basic orientation is provided on practices such as safe patient mobilization and other competencies. These additional sets of hands help to improve the nurse-to-patient ratios, among other things. Some are paired with nurses, while others perform certain tasks on their own. On days when there isn’t a shortage of RNs, new grads can help elsewhere, acting as unit clerks or nursing assistants. Beginning March 1, they’ll begin the formal cohort they had originally applied for, and the consensus is they’ve had a heck of a head start.
Lauren Hannon and Britny Archer are two of the more than 85 new grads brought on board early. Hannon, who began in late December, says she was more than ready to meet the moment.
“In the weeks leading up to being asked to come to Sharp Grossmont, I kept hearing all of these stories about hospitals struggling with COVID-19 and burnout, and I’m a proactive person who likes to be in the throes of things,” she says. “I was thinking, ‘I’m right here, I’m your girl!’”
Hannon’s time with Sharp actually began with the Foundations of Sharp HealthCare, where part of her work involved visiting patients. A mission to Haiti and the Dominican Republic paired her with a medical team, where she says she saw firsthand what doctors and nurses could do for people. In a few years, nursing school was her calling.
Today, Hannon works on the 3 South observation unit at Sharp Grossmont, and says starting at the hospital in the midst of a pandemic has been eye-opening and an honor to join the hospital team.
“When we were being interviewed, we were told that they were looking for people to jump in and basically become part of the cavalry,” she says. “So I came in with the mindset that I could do whatever they needed me to do.”
Archer began on 4 West in early January, coming from a skilled nursing facility. She said she was eager to get a job with a hospital, and jumped at the chance to begin early, even though she’d never heard of a nurse extender before.
“I had applied for the March cohort but they called me in December to be a nurse extender and I just said, ‘OK, I’m definitely doing this,’” she recalls.
She praised the nursing teams that she and other new grads work with, not only for their experience and skills, but also for their tailored approach to each new grad, some of whom have more previous health care experience than others.
“For others with less experience, the nursing staff made sure to check in with them to see that they were comfortable with what was being asked of them, and mentoring them along the way,” says Archer. “As busy as they were, they reassured everyone that they weren’t going to be left to figure things out on their own. And I feel good that we were all definitely able to provide them with some relief back.”
Tracy Plume, 3 South nurse manager, says the staffing model was a boon for nurses. “The use of nurse extenders was a creative and proactive way of addressing the nursing shortage during the pandemic,” she says. “These new grads were so excited to start and learn everything they could. They jumped right in with both feet and helped the departments continue to provide quality care. The departments appreciated the extra hands and help when we needed it most.”