May 29, 2024 Making Nursing Stronger

group of four nurses

How a new institute for nursing excellence supports providers—and improves patient care.

Nursing is said to be the backbone of health care. But in both health care and humans, the back takes on high stress. It needs to be strong to keep the whole body—or health care system—fully functional, resilient and effective. In health care, strong nursing ensures good health not just for hospitals and systems but ultimately for patients.

That’s the thinking behind a key framework called RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH)—The Institute for Nursing Excellence. “Our goal is to build and sustain a nursing workforce that’s representative of the communities we serve through new knowledge and innovations that help improve outcomes for patients and families, reduce costs and provide greater access to care,” says Nancy Holecek, MAS, MHA, BSN, RN, FNAP, Executive Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer, RWJBH.

Nurses who are not only skilled but also engaged and satisfied are more likely to keep practicing, Holecek says. “When you have consistency from highly knowledgeable and competent nurses who have developed as experts in their fields, you have exceptionally good care.”

Key Goals

At The Institute’s core is The Center for Professional Development, Innovation and Research (CPDIR), which is dedicated to ensuring that RWJBH health care team members have the resources to excel. Nursing education plays a crucial role in shaping the knowledge, skills and competencies of nurses, which in turn can have a significant impact on patient outcomes. “We believe that nursing excellence is achieved through professional development, upskilling and reskilling,” says Mary Beth Russell, PhD, MA, RN, NPDA-BC, NEA-BC, FNAP, CPHQ, Senior Vice President, The Center for Professional Development, Innovation, Research and The Institute for Nursing Excellence, RWJBH.

The Institute and its mission are supported by The CPDIR, which offers a range of educational programs and initiatives designed to support the professional development of nurses and inter-professional teams at all levels. Through continuous learning and innovation, The Institute is advancing nursing excellence at RWJBH through several key goals:

Aligning Nursing Practice Systemwide

Professional development teams work at the system level and at each RWJBH hospital to coordinate and conduct consistent orientation programs for nurses and assistive personnel. Teams also provide standardized specialty training for nurses who work in operating rooms, emergency departments, and perinatal and neonatal units, to name a few. Simulation-based education programs enable nurses to rehearse best practices with health care professionals so they have firsthand familiarity with clinical methods and situations before caring for real patients.

For recent nursing school graduates, a residency program provides a comprehensive onboarding process throughout the RWJBH system. The residency program not only facilitates the transition from academic to clinical settings in a collaborative and supportive way but also promotes ongoing professional development. “We’re bridging the gap between the classroom and real-life experience,” Russell says.

Standardizing Training

RWJBH now conducts regional orientation for nurses in the system’s northern and southern areas to reduce redundancy and promote consistency. “We’re communicating information to new hires in the same way regardless of where they work,” Russell says, adding that this not only encourages reliable practices but also engages nurses. “They enjoy being in the same room with people from all over the system. Not being siloed at their site gives them a macro perspective that’s not just systemwide but also nationwide and inter-professional.”

Fostering Innovation, Research and Professional Development

Nursing is a dynamic profession that constantly evolves with new innovations and research. Keeping up requires updating policies and procedures through reviews of the evidence-based literature in nursing. But it also requires disseminating new information and giving nurses training opportunities to apply it. “We’re actively assessing what we do, applying new information, evaluating and teaching nurses to implement new best practices,” Russell says.

Enhancing Academic Collaboration

Working with academic partners such as Rutgers School of Nursing and RWJBH’s Trinitas School of Nursing, a designated National League for Nursing Center of Excellence in Nursing Education, The Institute doesn’t just provide graduates with clinical placements but also offers students programs such as externships. Dedicated education units allow a student to work directly with an RWJBH preceptor (a more experienced clinician) to gain a better sense of what it’s like to work in a given setting. Hired graduates may have an opportunity to begin orientation on a dedicated orientation unit.

Promoting Inter-Professional Relationships

Nurses work closely with other professionals. Learning more about what other team members do and enhancing collaboration helps nurses do their own jobs better. “Partnering means having inter-professional discussions not only with physicians but also with people such as physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, dietary professionals and respiratory therapists,” Russell explains. “It also means having discussions with people in nonmedical fields. For example, collaborating with people in professions such as environmental services or engineering could help reduce the risks of patients falling when they get out of bed.”

A Proud Profession

These measures and others establish RWJBH as a leader in nursing professional development and advancement, Russell says. But helping nurses stay at the top of their game doesn’t just benefit patients and the RWJBH system; it helps nurses themselves.

When we’re giving nurses opportunities to gain knowledge, build skills, add credentials, align practices, and share evidence and innovations, it lets them know that RWJBH supports them,” she says.

That’s been especially important since the COVID-19 pandemic. “Nursing is different than it was years ago, with high levels of acuity and intensity along with mitigating factors like behavioral health, comorbidities and issues such as long COVID,” she says. “Knowing that they have the resources they’ll need gives nurses a secure feeling. That promotes engagement, which ties in to better patient outcomes. We’re taking nursing to the next level.”

Learn more about The Institute for Nursing Excellence and The Center for Professional Development, Innovation and Research at RWJBarnabas Health.