Do new nurse graduates possess the competencies they need for practice? According to a recent survey, only 23% of new nurse graduates possess the necessary entry level competencies to practice in the U.S. while only 34% possess the confidence (Wolters Kluwer, 2020).
The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this issue more pressing with many clinical sites being forced to shut down because they did not want to exhaust their personal protective equipment on students, were uncomfortable having students care for COVID-19 patients and didn’t want to risk exposing students to COVID-19. And because of the lack of clinical sites available for students to train in, academic centers were then forced to ramp up simulation programs to meet the rising clinical needs of their students.
An Innovative Approach
Some healthcare organizations took a different approach, however. Instead of barring student nurses from entering the healthcare setting, they developed and fortified their practice/academic partnerships, based on the model from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, and welcomed students into their clinical sites to assist the clinical workforce.
Practice/academic partnerships have been around for quite some time; however, the pandemic has brought them into the forefront more than they had been in recent years. In fact, NCSBN developed a new practice/academic partnership model to assist the nursing workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic (NCSBN, 2020), that was then endorsed by ten national nursing organizations.
How does the practice/academic partnership model work?
Simply put, healthcare organizations partner with an academic center and then employ their faculty to work in the practice setting as well as in the academic, to oversee the prelicensure students in their clinical training. In addition, the students are then compensated for their clinical time, and receive academic credit for their clinical requirements. Students enrolled not only receive comprehensive training on how to care for patients firsthand, but also learn how the organization works, how to use all the necessary equipment, as well as how to utilize protocols in the facility. And upon graduation, many of these students are hired to work in the same facility they trained, since they have effectively completed the facility’s orientation program while still in school. Think nurse “externship” program with clinical faculty present to observe and oversee care delivery.
These practice/academic partnerships are so successful because the collaboration between the practice and academic settings determines the knowledge and skills necessary for a “practice-ready nurse graduate” to possess.
Impact on the Nursing Shortage
As we begin to realize the full impact of the pandemic on the nursing workforce, one thing is clear—the nursing shortage is here to stay. As baby-boomers and other generational nurses opt to retire or leave the profession altogether, we will need more nurses to fill those gaps. Using a practice/academic partnership model essentially sets up a feeder for healthcare organizations to attract, train and orient new nurses simultaneously. And the plus side is that these newly licensed nurses will then have more clinical experience than their previous counterparts, who were not part of a practice/academic partnership and therefore unable to train in a clinical setting to the same extent.
Overall, if we want to ensure the nursing workforce stays strong, investing and supporting practice/academic partnerships is not only recommended, but beneficial for all.
NCSBN, 2020. Policy brief: U.S. nursing leadership supports practice, academic partnerships to assist the nursing workforce during the COVID-19 crisis. National Council of State Boards of Nursing. https://www.ncsbn.org/14573.htm
Wolters Kluwer, 2020. Closing the education-practice gap: Building confidence + competence. New Nurse Readiness Survey. https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/expert-insights/survey-nursing-readiness