Barker is one of 10 registered nurses graduating Jan. 8 from the new Versant RN Residency at San Ramon Regional Medical Center. The 18-week program is for recently graduated nurses, to help them transition from their education into real-world clinical settings.
"It's like a medical residency; they do shift work and have classroom experience," said Margie Bickar, program manager, who is also an intensive care nurse.
"Our goal is to retain them at our hospital," Margie continued. "They have been hired full time and are actually working. The last day of the program was Dec. 21 ... they already started working - Dec. 21."
Eight women and two men were in the class, and admittance was competitive.
"We held a recruitment lunch," explained Tina Nowak, director of education. Fifty-five candidates showed up. "It was kind of like speed dating. Ten of us did interviews that were 15 minutes long."
By 2020 the Bay Area is expected to need nearly 14,000 extra RNs to handle the workload that will be brought on by aging baby boomers. Plus 30-40 percent of nurses themselves are baby boomers and will be retiring in the next five years.
As a baby boomer, I was interested to learn more and it is indeed cause for concern. American hospitals are losing from 35 to 60 percent of their new nurse workforce within 12 months of employment and 57 percent at two years of hire. Something ain't right here - and the Versant program, which was begun at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles about four years ago, was designed to fix it.
"Each resident is matched with a mentor in addition to a preceptor, who gives them clinical guidance," said Margie. San Ramon Regional spokeswoman Sandra Ryan said the program has involved the entire hospital staff - more than 345 nurses - which made those in the program feel like they are part of the community.
"When you are a new nurse coming out of school you have a lot of information," said Tina. "When you come to the hospital it's applying that knowledge you have - the critical thinking. You need to be able to reason: 'What's going on with the patient?' It's very difficult for someone who is new."
"We want to see nurses being confident," said Margie. "When they are first out of school, they are novices."
Margie and Tina, who have been nurses for 27 and 15 years, respectively, told me nursing has changed over the years, in technology with the equipment and machinery they use, and also with the increase in medicines.
"When I first became a nurse there were one or two medications for different illnesses," said Margie. "Now, for blood pressure there are probably 40. And the nurses administering the medication to patients need to know the side effects."
Another change Tina noted is government involvement, with guidelines.
"They are based upon research," she explained. "Before, physicians would have their own way of practicing. Now we have government agencies saying, 'This is the best way to do it.'"
Also different is the amount of information that patients and their families get from the Internet.
"Their expectations of what is going to occur have changed," Margie said. "That's a dilemma in nursing. It's great when people do research on their own, but sometimes it's not complete."
For instance, people may get their information from blogs. Tina advises people that the most accurate information is on government sites.
Also patients in hospitals are sicker than they used to be: They are no longer admitted the night before surgery, and they are released earlier.
"The bedside nurse is responsible for discharge instruction, teaching them about medications and their follow-up care," said Margie. "A lot of patients go home with drains in place."
Aubrey Barker, former aspiring actress, is currently working the evening shift in the medical surgery unit. "I thought I was going to go in and save the world, but the reality is you don't have that much power to save the world - but you do it one patient at a time," she told me.
She said time management has been her biggest challenge. "You have five patients and each patient thinks they're the only one - and you have to act like they are. It's really a tactful art."
She called the Versant program fantastic. "There was always someone to turn to and say, 'This happened. What do I do next?' They don't judge you," she said. "Margie was fantastic. Such a compassionate nurse and role model to follow. It was good having her there to say, 'Let it go,' or 'Why don't you try this approach?' She always had an answer and always had a smile on her face."
--Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.