Experienced nurses nearing retirement are being employed full-time to help support and mentor newly qualified staff, under a pilot scheme intended to boost retention rates at a hospital trust on the London and Essex border.
The “senior intern” scheme was the brainchild of Kathryn Halford, chief nurse at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust and already appears to be having an impact.
“I thought we could marry the two together and some of my more experienced nurses could go and support the new nurses”
Between 100 and 150 band 5 nurses join the trust each year and, ordinarily, 20% would leave before the end of their first year in the role but since the scheme launched, just three nurses have left, Ms Halford told Nursing Times.
Of those, two had wanted to work in the community and left when roles came up and one left to go travelling, said Ms Halford, who said she expected to see nursing vacancy and turnover rates fall.
She told Nursing Times that her inspiration for the sheme was the film, The Intern, in which a young businesswoman played by Anne Hathaway benefits from support and advice from a retired “senior intern” played by Robert de Niro.
“I was watching The Intern with my daughter and thought it was really interesting that older people who had retired, yet didn’t want to leave work completely, were being brought back into work and helping people,” she said.
“The senior interns absolutely love it, because they are introducing people into a career they have spent their whole life in”
She said: “It just occurred to me that we have lots of nurses who are coming up to retirement still in their 50s, still quite keen to work but perhaps don’t want to do the 12-hour shifts on the wards.
“That was coupled with the fact that our new band 5 nurses are millennials, so used to being very supported into whatever they’re doing,” said Ms Halford. “I thought we could marry the two together and some of my more experienced nurses could go and support the new nurses as they came into the ward areas.”
She successfully applied to the national workforce planning body Health Education England for funding for an 18-month pilot scheme, which kicked off in September last year.
The trust now has three whole-time equivalent “senior interns” working across its two main hospital sites – King George Hospital in Ilford and Queen’s Hospital in Romford.
The three nurses are all “very experienced clinical nurses”, who were working on the frontline at the trust up to the time they moved into the new posts.
Ms Halford said the trust had deliberately recruited hands-on clinical nurses as opposed to those who may have moved up into management roles.
“If you have moved into senior management, you perhaps don’t recognise the stresses and strains of everyday life on a ward now,” she noted.
“We have noticed that the transition from senior staff nurse to sister post is a difficult transition for people to make”
While the interns are not there to train nurses in technical skills, they may still do clinical tasks alongside junior staff, she added.
“For example, if a nurse is struggling, then doing a technical task with them may be a good way of having a conversation, because they may feel more comfortable talking,” said Ms Halford.
“It is really more a pastoral role – so it’s, ‘I’m having a really bad shift, it’s very difficult on this shift’, and they go to the ward and support the nurse through those shifts.”
The senior intern team is based with the trust’s recruitment nurse and supports nurses working in all areas including emergency, surgical, medical, paediatric, intensive and maternity care.
“People can call them, so sometimes the senior nurses on the wards will call and say, ‘A nurse is having a bit of difficulty could you come down and so do work with her?’,” said Ms Halford. “They also go round the wards proactively checking on all of our new staff when they start.”
While the senior interns predominantly work with band 5 nurses, they have also been supporting nurses at band 6 and above, noted Ms Halford.
“We have noticed that the transition from senior staff nurse to sister post is a difficult transition for people to make, so they are also supporting our new ward managers and ward sisters,” she said, highlighting that the team supported such nurses in a number of different ways.
“They might come the first time they are managing a night shift, because that’s quite scary for people. So, they would come and perhaps do the first four or five hours with them or it might be the first time a nurse was in charge of a bay on the ward,” she explained.
“It helps to have someone who isn’t your busy ward manager to ask what you need to do and how to do it”
She said: “They are just there as a sounding board really for people to check they are doing the right thing and as a bit of extra support.”
The senior interns also help talk nurses through procedures like booking annual leave and sorting out study leave. “These are minor things, but sometimes people get really worried about them, so it helps to have someone who isn’t your busy ward manager to ask what you need to do and how to do it,” she said.
The interns could also step in when a particular role was not working out for a nurse, who perhaps believed they wanted to work in a specific ward area but changed their mind once they get there.
“They will work with the nurses to see if they can transfer to another ward in the organisation that is more appropriate to their skillset,” said Ms Halford.
She highlighted the extra support from the mentors had been especially invaluable in the trust’s emergency departments, which she noted were “very, very busy” and “quite stressful”.
“When we have had several new nurses on the same shift, the senior intern will often go down onto ED and be there for most of the shift to support the nurses while they are working,” she said.
“We have about five newly-qualified recruits down there and some have really struggled at times, so it has been really useful having that extra bit of support from somebody who isn’t desperately trying to manage the beds or offload patients from ambulances,” she said.
Feedback from staff so far has been positive and other professional groups, including allied health professionals and doctors, are now keen to have their own senior interns, said Ms Halford.
“The senior interns absolutely love it, because they are introducing people into a career that they have spent their whole life in and really enjoyed,” she said. “The new recruits enjoy it and find it really helpful, because they have got another person who isn’t a busy ward manager that they can go and ask advice from and who has a bit more time to spend with them.
“Also, the ward teams find them very helpful because if they have got a member of staff they are a bit concerned about they have got another person who can come in and really dig underneath what the problem is, look at how we can help and then find a solution,” she added.