Course aims to prepare nursing grads for hospital jobs during times of 'extreme stress'

Researchers at the University of Windsor are developing a new program with hopes to help prepare new nurses entering hospitals during times of extreme stress.

Program follows pandemic-related research showing burnout, stress among nurses

A nurse wearing personal protective equipment prepares to enter a patient’s room in the intensive care unit at North York General Hospital on May 26, 2020. Researchers at the University of Windsor are developing a course to help prepare nursing graduates for extreme stress in hospital settings. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Researchers at the University of Windsor are developing a new program with hopes to help prepare graduating nurses entering hospitals during times of extreme stress.

It comes after the researchers spoke with nurses both in Windsor and Detroit about their experiences working in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic and then checking in with them a year later. 

"They talked about experiencing disrespect from their hospitals, from levels of government, from the community. They talked about having an unmanageable, heavy workload," said Dana Menard, lead researcher on the project and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Windsor.

Menard, along with researchers Jody Ralph, Laurie Freeman, and Kendall Soucie, produced a study called Heroes, or just doing our job? The impact of COVID-19 on registered nurses in a border city.

Menard said nurses had trouble balancing work and life, and many had left the profession with no plan for what to do next. 

Her team came up with the idea to create a program to help senior nursing students transition into hospital based jobs during times of "extreme stress."

"Even before the pandemic, young nurses were the group most likely to leave the profession," said Menard. "So it seems like there's something potentially that's missing between the formal education and the nursing programs that they complete and the realities of the jobs in which they find themselves."

Headshot of a woman with brown hair and glasses.
Dana Menard is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Windsor. (University of Windsor)

Menard and her colleagues are now in the early stages of forming a ten-week course to help prepare these students which is set to be offered at the University of Windsor then at the University of Ottawa and Queen's University.

The topics and how to address them will come from a panel of health-care workers, and the course will also offer simulations of what young nurses can expect. 

Staffing shortages at hospitals across Ontario continues to be an issue as the pandemic drags on. The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) union has called on Premier Doug Ford to take "immediate steps" to keep the province's nurses on board and bring in new ones.

Cathryn Hoy, president of ONA, said many new nurses who attended school during the pandemic have been unable to complete in-hospital or placement learning. 

Many young students did their clinical work in lab simulators and many of them "barely touched a patient," said Hoy.

"So they're starting in where employers want them to start just like that, with very little orientation or mentoring," she said.

"And we're seeing a lot of them just say, 'This isn't for me, I'm out of here' or a new grad is trying to help another new grad and figure things out, and that's just wrong. That's how mistakes are made. And that is not their fault. It's because we don't have the staff to mentor them."

Menard said the new course will be available to students next spring. 


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