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The Right Fit

Hiring and keeping the best nurses

By Pam Auchmutey

Story Photo

June Connor co-leads a workgroup to boost hiring and retention of Emory-trained nurses at Emory Healthcare.

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Some years ago, June Connor 81MSN RN NE-BC hired a nurse to work in a cardiology unit at Emory University Hospital (EUH). Weeks passed, and Connor sensed the young nurse was miserable. “She hated cardiology. It was so stressful to her,” Connor recalls the nurse telling her. “Her real passion was women’s health, and she had come to tell me she was thinking about leaving to work in labor and delivery at another Atlanta hospital.”

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Connor offered to help the nurse find another position in the Emory system. By the next pay period, the nurse was working in the L&D unit at what is now Emory University Hospital Midtown.

“She was extremely happy,” says Connor. “That’s what we’re here to do—hire the most qualified nurses and help them find the best fit for their nursing career—as they start their career and as it develops.”

Emory has been a good fit for Connor. In 1976, she joined EUH as a staff nurse and today serves as vice president of nursing operations at Emory Healthcare (EHC) and chief nursing officer/chief operating officer at Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. Under her leadership, the hospital achieved Magnet status for nursing excellence in 2016.

Staying with the same health care system for 40-plus years is the exception rather than the rule, Connor admits. In this day and age, nurses often work for different employers to advance, find a better fit, and learn something new. However, at EHC, nurses have multiple opportunities to change specialties and institutions within a large academic health system. Connor wants to ensure that nurses who train and work at EHC remain there.

“Nurses are drawn here because we are part of an academic health center with 10 hospitals—including three with Magnet status—and more than 50 clinics,” she says. “Our applicants come from everywhere, but our main line is the School of Nursing. We know their graduates are academically well prepared and committed to high-quality patient care because they learned nursing practice in our health system.”

Recruiting and retaining those nurses is the aim of the Emory Pipeline Workgroup led by Connor and Carolyn Clevenger 02MSN DNP FAANP, associate dean for clinical and community partnerships at the School of Nursing. Their immediate task: developing an analytic model to track and grow the pipeline of Emory BSN graduates into EHC.

A first step was to develop a dictionary of common data terms for uniformity. The next step is to create a database to assess how Emory BSN students fare during the EHC hiring process and where they are hired, whether by EHC or another employer.

Amy Dorrill, associate dean for development and alumni relations at the School of Nursing, has played an integral role in building the analytic model by sharing alumni data from the school. Other key data sources include EHC Human Resources (HR) and exit surveys completed by nursing students when they graduate.

Initial data collection already has deepened understanding of how well BSN students perform. Do they interview well? Do they make eye contact during an interview? Do they talk about their previous experience before nursing school? Why are some graduates offered positions and some not?

“We now give feedback to the School of Nursing about how their graduates present during interviews,” says Connor. “Our HR staff meets with students during class to coach them on how to interview and sell themselves. We cue them on what to highlight during the interview process to showcase the talents, personality, and skills they would bring to the care environment.”

Feedback provided by EHC to the School of Nursing in turn benefits teaching. “It helps us improve our curriculum so that the next cohort of students will be that much better,” says Clevenger.

Just as important, students can share in confidence why they turn down job offers from EHC. Such information, says Connor, “provides insight about what new graduates think about our health care system and how we can improve hiring and recruitment.”

The Emory Pipeline Workgroup’s efforts are gaining traction. As of February 2016, five BSN graduates entered EHC residency programs as new hires. A year later, 24 graduates began one-year residencies. This year, 68 graduates have been hired thus far, along with a director of retention to help nursing staff explore and develop their careers within the system.

Ultimately, as more data is collected, it will provide useful insight on retention and turnover rates after Emory graduates complete their residencies. “Our competition goes after our graduates after their 12-month contracts end,” says Clevenger. “The information we gain will help us retain them as lifelong members of Emory Nursing.”


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Crossing the Bridge

It’s been a year since Noreen Bernard EdD MS RN joined Emory Healthcare (EHC) as vice president for professional nursing practice. When she comes to Emory’s main campus for meetings, she often uses the pedestrian bridge to walk from Emory University Hospital to the School of Nursing.

In Bernard’s mind, the bridge symbolizes the connections between EHC and the school. It also raises a question.

“How do we take the great brains and all the great work that’s happening with students and graduates of the school and bridge them into our nursing workforce?,” says Bernard. “It’s not limited to students in the baccalaureate program. We want to include students in the master’s and DNP programs. There’s a significant nursing shortage—everyone knows that. It’s hard to find enough qualified experienced nurses.”

One solution is the Emory Healthcare Scholars program. The new three-year program allows an EHC nurse to work and study to become an advanced practice provider in an area of critical need. Efforts are under way to recruit the first scholar. Initial plans call for the scholar to be a labor and delivery nurse who will enroll in the nurse-midwifery graduate program at the School of Nursing.

The EHC Scholars program is the direct result of an Emory Pipeline Workgroup discussion about the need for experienced labor and delivery nurses at Emory University Hospital Midtown, stemming from a limited number of clinical rotation sites in women’s health and nurse-midwifery for students to train. In the future, the EHC Scholars program is expected to help fill the need for advanced practice nurses in several specialty areas, including critical care.


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