deliver safe, quality care that meets defined (organization or professional society) standards of practice. Residency programs are supported predominantly in hospitals and larger health systems, with a focus on acute care. This has been the area of greatest need since most new graduates gain employment in acute care settings, and the proportion of new hires (and nursing staff) that are new graduates is rapidly increasing. It is essential, however, that residency programs outside of acute care settings be developed and evaluated. Much of the evidence supporting the success of residencies has been produced through self-evaluations by the residency programs themselves. For example, one organization, Versant,2 has demonstrated a profound reduction in turnover rates for new graduate registered nurses—from 35 to 6 percent at 12 months and from 55 to 11 percent at 24 months—compared with new graduate registered nurse control groups hired at a facility prior to implementation of the residency program.
Major changes in the U.S. health care system and practice environment will require equally profound changes in the education of nurses both before and after they receive their license. An improved education system is necessary to ensure that the current and future generations of nurses can deliver safe, quality, patient-centered care across all settings, especially in such areas as primary care and community and public health.
Nursing is unique among the health professions in the United States in that it has multiple educational pathways leading to an entry-level license to practice. The qualifications and level of education required for entry into the nursing profession have been widely debated by nurses, nursing organizations, academics, and a host of other stakeholders for more than 40 years. During that time, competencies needed to practice have expanded, especially in the domains of community and public health, geriatrics, leadership, health policy, system improvement and change, research and evidence-based practice, and teamwork and collaboration. These new competencies have placed increased pressures on the education system and its curricula.
Care within hospital and community settings also has become more complex. In hospitals, nurses must make critical decisions associated with care for sicker, frailer patients and work with sophisticated, life-saving technology. Nurses are being called upon to fill primary care roles and to help patients manage chronic illnesses, thereby preventing acute care episodes and disease progression. They
Versant is a nonprofit organization that provides, supervises, and evaluates nurse transition-to-practice residency programs for children’s and general acute care hospitals. See http://www.versant.org/item.asp?id=35.