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In Response to Pandemic, SLU and SSM Health Prepare Nurses to Return to the Workforce

by Carrie Bebermeyer on 04/20/2020
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Responding to the need for nurses on the frontlines of COVID-19 care, Saint Louis University’s Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing and SSM Health are mobilizing trained nurses who currently are out of the workforce to return to practice through an expedited training program.

Joanne Langan

Professor of nursing Joanne Langan, Ph.D., RN, CNE, developed SLU's Return to Nursing program in 2002. An internationally known expert in the field of disaster preparedness, response and recovery, Langan is shown here in front of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency where she talked with and trained  Bahamian nurses and health care officials earlier this year. Submitted photo. 

The Return to Practice program is open to those with Registered Nursing experience. The paid, two-week program provides remote classroom as well as hands-on instruction to help nurses quickly return to patient care. Returning nurses will be hired by SSM to practice as licensed Registered Nurses (RN), and will be paired with more experienced nurses on the job once their training is complete.

“The nurses who have been on the front lines during this entire time have been working diligently to care for patients,” said Joanne Langan, Ph.D., RN, C.N.E., Professor of Nursing at SLU and coordinator of Disaster Preparedness and Return to Practice programs at the Valentine School of Nursing.

“Newly-returned nurses can augment what the current nurses have been doing for weeks.”

Building on an existing partnership between SLU and SSM Health, the expedited program will help RNs refresh their skills with one week of classes and another week of clinical nursing practice that is precepted by seasoned SSM nurses in the units where they will be assigned after the completion of the program.

Return to Nursing

Nurses leave the workforce for a number of reasons, including caring for new babies, young children and older adult parents or going back to school.

In 2002, Langan developed SLU’s RN Return to Practice course in response to a need she saw among nurses who wanted to return to the workforce. In 2017, the SLU program developed into an exclusive partnership with SSM Health and two years later, it was recognized by the St. Louis Business Journal as one of the best human resources programs in the St. Louis area.

“I knew of many nurses who wanted to return to practice but knew they needed to ‘brush up’ on their skills,” Langan said. “I conducted a study with colleagues in Missouri, as well as a national study. I asked nurses if they were to return to practice, what skills would they need to refresh and practice. Based on their responses, we created the curriculum to include those skills plus the newer skills that were evolving.”

The Return to Practice program reviews nursing basics, like hygiene, taking vital signs and IV insertion, as well as updates on new medications, electronic health records and other technologies nurses are expected to know. The program also includes training in therapeutic communication skills to help address patients’ mental health needs, a request Langan heard from the nurses she surveyed.   

A National Need

Now, in partnership with SSM Health colleagues, Langan has worked with SLU faculty, staff and IT support teams to quickly adapt the program to respond to COVID-19.

Whether nurses return to work for the duration of the pandemic, stay in the field or find other ways to put their skills to use, Langan encourages those with nursing training to help meet the nation’s health care needs.

“Our nation needs professional nurses in a variety of ways,” Langan said. “Some nurses who complete the expedited program may choose to work only temporarily while others may choose to stay on with SSM for an extended period of time.

“If it is not possible to return to work as these RN RTP practice nurses will do, we would like nurses to consider volunteer work, such as with the American Red Cross as screeners for other volunteers or to screen those who donate blood. There are so many ways that nurses can use their knowledge and skills and be valuable assets to our communities.”

As SLU and SSM Health help nurses step up to meet the challenge of a national crisis, Langan voices the gratitude felt by many for the heroic work of health care providers.

“We are very proud of the dedication of nurses who choose to refresh their skills to return to practice at such an important time,” Langan said.

“We have quite a wonderful record of the nurses who started with us in 2002 who are still working as professional nurses or who have inspired others to join our profession.  Our hope is that the nurses who go through this concentrated effort will fall back in love with nursing and choose to continue working even when the pandemic and critical need is past.”

Saint Louis University’s Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing

Founded in 1928, the Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing at Saint Louis University has achieved a national reputation for its innovative and pioneering programs. Offering bachelor's, master's, and doctoral nursing programs, its faculty members are nationally recognized for their teaching, research and clinical expertise.