SVMC emergency room

The Emergency Department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

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BENNINGTON — The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) has granted a 4-year accreditation to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC), part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC), for its Practice Transition Program. It is the first program in the state and one of only 208 in the United States to have received the accreditation.

“This new distinction validates that SVMC is a wonderful place to start your career in nursing,” said Pamela Duchene, the chief nursing officer and vice president for Patient Care Services at SVMC. “It shows that we are following evidence-based practice to support our new nurses. That improves recruitment and retention in ways that make a big impact on maintaining the very high quality of care we provide.”

Receiving the accreditation required a years-long expansion of the program to welcome new graduate nurses. In the past, SVMC welcomed new nurse graduates with an internship, which included up to two weeks of intensive classroom time and an orientation on the unit. Alongside a nurse trainer, known in health care as a preceptor, they demonstrated competence in their specialty with a standardized validation tool before being released to work with patients independently. Managers and educators checked to ensure that they were on track and that they had all the support that they needed.

“We approached this accreditation because we were interested in doing more to welcome new nurses in a way that would contribute both to the excellent quality of care SVMC is known for and long and rewarding careers for our nurses,” said Program Director Alison Camarda.

In February 2018, SVMC hired more new nurses in the Emergency Department than usual. It was a perfect opportunity to try a new transition-to-practice program. Instead of a solid block of classroom time, this group had just three days of classroom time before beginning one-on-one work with their preceptors. They met once or twice a month for a curriculum and discussion. The combination allowed them to identify potential challenges and bring them to the group sessions, which facilitated shared learning among participants.

“We knew it was really good right from the start. The new nurses seemed to learn their jobs more quickly and were more satisfied with their work,” Camarda said. “In fact, all of the participants are still employed in the department today.”

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They replicated the program for summer cohorts in 2018 and 2019, and by 2020, they were ready to launch the first nursing residency for new graduates throughout the hospital. It’s called the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Transition to Practice Program. Participants received a week of classroom instruction and met for a day once a month for six months. The program has since been extended to 12 months, which allows new graduate nurses to join the program at any time.

The year-long program connects registered nurses with nurse educators, leaders, and skilled preceptors for mentorship. It incorporates clinical skills assessments and hones the interpersonal and organizational skills needed to coordinate care with a team of health care providers on the job. Topics for group sessions include communication, leadership, inter-professional teamwork, evidence-based practice, and ethics. Skill sessions provided new graduate nurses opportunities to gain confidence in the hands-on aspects of their work.

To earn the accreditation, a transition-to-practice program must show how it is meeting the ideal program criteria. There are more than 30 standards that the program must meet. SVMC submitted additional materials, which demonstrated achievement of five additional standards, in order to receive the accreditation “with distinction.”

Brittany Priggen, BSN, RN, was in the first group and went on to become a preceptor for the current group. “There’s just so much minutiae in nursing, and it’s all important,” she said. “The program helped me learn the skills and gain knowledge, but it also helped me build my confidence in nursing. I learned how to access my resources, manage my time, prioritize, and sharpen my assessment skills.”

The program also ensures nurses have the emotional support they need, Priggen explains. “It teaches you that you can ask for help. That it is OK.” She especially valued the connections she made with her director, preceptor, and mentor throughout the program. “You can tell that your success as a nurse is important to them.”

Maintaining the accreditation requires reporting annually.


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