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OU Health, OU College of Nursing Collaborate on Nurse Workforce Initiatives


Published: Friday, December 4, 2020

OU Health and the Fran and Earl Ziegler OU College of Nursing are collaborating to bring additional nurses into the workforce, a critical need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OU Health and the OU College of Nursing have created the Senior Nurse Intern Program, which pairs senior nursing students one-on-one with RNs in critical care units at all three OU Health hospitals, giving students in-depth experience as they prepare to begin their own careers. The program, which was first launched at OU Health, is now being implemented at hospitals across Oklahoma.

In addition, the OU College of Nursing is seeing increased interest in its Nursing Refresher Course, a program that updates knowledge and skills for nurses who have been out of the workforce but want to reactivate their licenses so they can return to the patient's bedside.

"As Oklahoma's comprehensive academic healthcare enterprise, we employ hundreds of nurses at our three hospitals and have a need for nurses within OU Health Physicians clinics as well. We are grateful for the experienced, compassionate care they provide our patients each day," said Cathy Pierce, MS, RNC, CENP, Chief Nursing Executive for OU Medicine, Inc. "Because OU Health represents the combined efforts of OU Medicine and the OU Health Sciences Center, we take great pride in our mission to prepare the next generation of nurses. We are working closer than ever with the OU College of Nursing to give student nurses the knowledge and skills they need to care for our patients, which is especially important now as so many Oklahomans are suffering from COVID-19."

OU College of Nursing Dean Julie Hoff, Ph.D., MPH, RN, said the combination of the programs - giving students more clinical experience and assisting nurses in returning to the workforce - is at the heart of the mission of an academic healthcare system. "As a college, our primary aim is to educate future nurses prepared to provide evidence-based nursing care to patients and families," Hoff said. "Our collaboration with OU Health amplifies that mission in a mutually beneficial manner."

In the Senior Nurse Intern Program, senior nursing students work closely with nurses across the patient care units at OU Health's three hospitals - the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, Oklahoma Children's Hospital, and Edmond Medical Center. This one-on-one experience provides a unique opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the practice of nursing under the mentoring of an experienced nurse.
Another unique aspect of the program is that senior nursing students are paid for their work as interns. Supporting them monetarily helps as they spend long hours in the hospital while still taking steps toward beginning their own careers. Nursing students complete their clinical hours and have the opportunity to continue to work as a nurse tech.

"We have already received very positive feedback about this program," Pierce said. "Being paired one-on-one with nurses allows the students to ask more questions and be truly embedded in the daily activities and responsibilities of a practicing nurse. The students advance their knowledge and skills in prioritization, delegation, and how to handle multiple complex situations at one time, while the nurses play a major role in preparing the students who will soon join them in the workforce. We believe this program will help shape the professional formation of nurses in Oklahoma and we are excited to see it expand statewide."

Although the Nursing Refresher Course is not new, it is seeing renewed interest during the COVID-19 pandemic. The course is geared toward RNs and LPNs whose licenses have become inactive for any reason, such as taking time off to raise a family or caring for a loved one who is sick. The OU College of Nursing provides the educational portion, which is offered online and allows participants to work at their own pace. The clinical part of the course is offered in conjunction with Oklahoma's CareerTech System, whose participating technology centers place participants in hospitals near where they live.

The content of the Nurse Refresher Course is the same basic subject matter that they learned in their own initial training, but updated as elements of the profession have changed. Participants have a year to complete the program, but many finish before then because they work more quickly through the online component.

"This course provides nurses everything they need to reactivate their licenses," Hoff said. "Given the caring nature of nurses, it's no surprise that we are seeing more interest in the course at this time. The course is also helping people whose significant other has lost a job because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with a nursing background, they can take this course and return to clinical practice. The framework of this program is also beneficial in that participants can obtain their clinical hours at a technology center or hospital in their community.

"Both the Senior Nurse Intern Program and the Nursing Refresher Course are essential for addressing Oklahoma's nurse shortage, which has become more serious during the pandemic," Hoff added. "The collaboration of OU Health and the OU College of Nursing is making this possible. Because we are partners in one health system, we have a unique opportunity to develop programs that ultimately benefit the patients we serve."