Ministry Health Care to Partner with Marquette University College of Nursing

Ministry Health Care is one of three health care partners in the nation selected by the Marquette University College of Nursing in Milwaukee to participate in a grant-funded project to create an evidence-based rural nurse residency program.

The grant award was recently announced by the university and totals just over $1 million and will include rural health care networks in Illinois and Idaho in addition to Ministry. Ministry Education and Development has been working with patient care leaders and the University for the past two years to support the grant application process, provide the necessary data and validate the need for the effort at Ministry’s rural hospitals.  This collaboration has resulted in the grant award which will fund the three-year project.

Marilyn Meyer Bratt, PhD, assistant professor of nursing at Marquette, will serve as the primary investigator of the grant, which was awarded by the Division of Nursing in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Bratt, an Eagle River high school graduate, worked as a newly graduated nurse at the hospital that is now Ministry Eagle River Memorial Hospital.

The project, "SOAR-RN: Supporting Onboarding And Retention of Rural Nurses," will benefit new nurses’ transition to practice and retention in rural hospitals through an alliance of rural-based health care systems or collaborative networks and academic organizations. By training experienced nurses to serve as preceptors and mentors, as well as developing a rural nurse residency curriculum consisting of monthly seminars, the program is expected to improve patient care and help create more positive work environments that lead to quality care, according to Bratt.

The grant is intended to address the unique challenges that new nurses experience in rural hospitals and access to resources that provide longer-term guidance to support new nurses. According to Bratt, new nurse turnover can reach 50 percent in rural areas."

The patient need for expert nursing care is not lower in rural healthcare settings, and in fact may require nurses who have a broader knowledge base and ability to provide safe and effective care in multiple areas, according to Barb Lato, nursing leader at Ministry Our Lady of Victory Hospital in Stanley. "The residency program is anticipated to assist us in developing and retaining the caliber of nursing staff that our communities require and deserve." 

The SOAR-RN will capitalize on academic partnerships in each state making the transition to professional practice for new rural nurses more cost-effective. The Marquette University College of Nursing will collaborate with the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network, Ministry Health Care in Wisconsin, and Rural Connection in Idaho and partner with Boise State University and Mennonite College of Nursing at Illinois State University.

Ann Zenk, Vice President of Patient Care at Ministry Sacred Heart Saint Mary’s Hospital stated that, "the nursing skill set needed to function successfully in a rural hospital is unique, requiring expertise in multiple areas of patient care. The implementation of the rural health nursing residency is an excellent enhancement to the educational and staff development plans currently available within the Ministry system."

The SOAR-RN project builds on programming developed through the Wisconsin Nurse Residency Program project also administered by Bratt. That nearly $2 million HRSA-funded project was awarded in 2004 to help new nursing graduates manage the steep learning curve and build clinical competency throughout the first year of practice. Over seven years, almost 1,700 new graduates have completed the program. The average retention rate for participating organizations is 82 percent, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in nurse replacement cost-savings."

The effective transition from graduate nurses to confident nursing practice is resource intensive and in smaller rural facilities these resources may not be as readily available in comparison to larger teaching or academic settings," stated Deb Karow, Vice President of Patient Care Services at Howard Young Medical Center in Woodruff. "The learning curve is especially challenging for our new grads. This grant provides us with resources and a structure that will enhance our ongoing efforts to improve our nurse training, experience, and retention," she noted.

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