Program Showcased in Flathead Beacon News

Kalispell Hospital Develops Residency Program for New Nurses

In an effort to address the growing demand for nurses, Kalispell Regional Healthcare has developed a new residency program that is one of the first in Montana.

The program, formally established in the last year, welcomes newly licensed nurses for a 12-month residency that seeks to bridge the gap from academic nursing to clinical practice.

The demand for nurses has spiked over the last decade due to rising patient numbers as the Baby Boomer generation ages and more people gain insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act. The number of nurses in Montana has increased by more than 1,500, from 18,263 to 19,897 in August, according to the Montana Board of Nursing.

But, according to national research, roughly 25 percent of new nurses leave a position in the first year, a significant contributing factor to the shortage.

“It can be hard to find experienced nurses, which is why we’re trying to grow this residency program,” said Jim Oliverson, vice president at Kalispell Regional Healthcare.

Mandy Pokorny, coordinator of the nurse residency program at Kalispell Regional Healthcare, said it is important for nurses fresh out of college to have support and structure to help them succeed and transition into a new career.

“There can be a gap from school to work and it is a very demanding practice,” Pokorny said.

“Support early on is really important.”

Nurses accepted into the residency program are paid and sign a three-year commitment to Kalispell Regional Healthcare. So far the program has attracted nurses from across the country, including California and Washington. Once enrolled, nurses undergo weekly courses, mentoring opportunities and hands-on experience throughout the vast parts of the hospital, including the surgical floor, intermediate care floor and transitional care unit. In the first 14 weeks, nurse residents work closely with a trained preceptor, learning to become more independent in their role over time, Pokorny said.

“Our main goal is to provide them a strong foundation,” she said.

The Montana Department of Labor published a study in 2013 that projected the state’s health care industry to grow by roughly 1,300 jobs every year until 2022. There are expected to be roughly 349 openings for nurses annually during that span.

“The ‘trial by fire’ approach doesn’t work,” Oliverson said. “It puts patient safety at risk and puts nurses at risk. That’s why this residency program is so important.”NRP Beacon