“East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC) has a longstanding tradition of growing their own to carry out the organization’s mission of “high quality, compassionate healthcare.” In fact, a V.P. started as an orderly 34 years ago, proof that senior leadership has walked the walk. While several programs were in place to retain professional positions, growth opportunities were needed for entry-level frontline employees to continue growing internal talent.
“There’s a lot of competition in this region for entry-level employees, so we started to look at how to better retain talent at EAMC,” said Karen Gresham, RN, director of education services. “Our frontline employees wanted opportunities for development and promotions, and we realized we had a gap in what we offered at the entry level.”
In 2005, EAMC began offering Catalyst Learning’s School at Work (SAW), a career development program for entry-level healthcare associates, to frontline employees to help them advance within the organization through clinical or administrative positions. Today, more than 130 employees have graduated from the program and more than half of those employees have been promoted. Ten percent of SAW students have gone on to earn a college degree.
In the beginning, Gresham admits, some managers were hesitant to recommend employees for SAW because they didn’t want to see talented employees leave their departments. That way of thinking, however, has shifted as managers experience firsthand the positive effect SAW has on employees as they develop skills in areas like medical terminology, soft skills and math.
“Employees are more confident, more engaged and they are speaking up,” said Gresham. “They are making a difference in their departments.”
The focus is now on EAMC’s mission for high quality, compassionate care, and the opportunity for SAW participants to grow into roles where they are providing better care for patients. Many SAW participants move into positions where they are interacting with patients and families, and they are expected to be good examples for compassionate customer service.
SAW graduates also have personal development plans with clear goals for what they want to accomplish. Managers recognize SAW graduates for more than just their job title. They are career-oriented employees who have computer skills, as well as important soft skills such as the ability to handle conflict and difficult situations.
EAMC has taken its commitment to entry-level employees a step further with a strong focus on “what’s next?” for SAW graduates. Will the employee go to school on a scholarship or with tuition reimbursement? How will the employee grow in his or her current role? Additionally, all SAW graduates go through EAMC’s internal financial university to learn how to manage their personal finances.
“It [SAW] has made me a risk-taker and a goalsetter,” said SAW graduate JaQuita Newsome. “I have been able to learn new ideas, make new friends, meet new people, advance my work skills and job performance, and it has made me push further towards job advancement.”
EAMC has delivered 12 SAW classes with a 90 percent completion rate. The success stories speak for themselves. A CNA in EAMC’s long-term care facility who participated in the first SAW class in 2005 is now a SAW coach working in the education services department. Another employee who started as a general cleaner is going to school on a scholarship and will become a nurse in May.
“When I talk to SAW participants, I tell them that they are in charge of their future,” said Gresham. “It’s too important for them to leave it in anyone else’s hands. We give them the tools and knowledge to succeed in what they want to do.”
Building on their success, leadership development programs expand to frontline nurses
EAMC started as a small, 81-bed hospital. After an acquisition in 2014, the hospital has grown to two main facilities, 340 beds, and many off-site services. EAMC also added a cancer center and is the only hospital in Alabama with a Silver Beacon Award in ICU. The award recognizes caregivers who successfully improve patient outcomes and align practices with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ six Healthy Work Environment Standards. Units that achieve this three-year designation meet national criteria consistent with Magnet Recognition, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the National Quality Healthcare Award.
These high standards are the result of carrying out EAMC’s mission to deliver the best possible care, but much like EAMC’s experience with entry-level employees, the organization’s robust leadership development program wasn’t reaching frontline nurses or addressing the development needs of nurse managers and charge nurses.
Given their success with SAW, EAMC again turned to Catalyst Learning for a solution. Catalyst had recently launched NCharge, an evidence-based curriculum that gives first level supervisory nurses the skills they need to more effectively lead. The program was in line with EAMC’s leadership development and succession planning goals. NCharge is now a part of EAMC’s official succession plan.
“I just loved the program [NCharge] right away. It spoke to me as a nurse,” said Rosemary Cummings, director of medical surgical services. “When I started as a labor and delivery nurse, I was put in charge after being on the floor for three months or so. If I’d had some of this info, I could have done more with that position. So, I understood what we were lacking, not having anything for those supervisors.”
Recognizing the importance of having experience in a nurse leadership role, EAMC decided to have nurse managers like Cummings deliver the NCharge content. Each nurse manager is paired with an educator who can help deliver the curriculum. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
As with SAW, the success of NCharge is dependent on buy-in from managers and their willingness to allow frontline staff time away from their regular duties to complete the program. Once managers learned the objectives and how a leadership program developed specifically for nurses could make a difference, they were on board. This year, EAMC will also offer NCharge to managers to give them a firsthand understanding of what NCharge participants are learning.
EAMC is focused on results and a return on their investment. Two groups of 20 nurses have gone through the program and checkpoints are now in place to see if the nurses are using the skills they are learning.
Managers are seeing improved engagement and confidence among nurses and a positive change in communication with physicians and other employees. One participant shared with Cummings that she uses different parts of NCharge every day, for example finance and value-based purchasing skills that are typically learned on the job. Two nurses who have completed the program have been promoted to managers.
EAMC’s long-term goal for its nurse leadership development program is sustainability. Cummings and other instructors are planning lunch-and-learns with the two groups who have gone through NCharge to discuss how they are leveraging their new skills and which tools are most effective. The lunches will also be an opportunity for participants who formed a bond completing the program together to reconnect.
“We are not part of a big organization, but we offer quality healthcare here. We take a lot of pride in how we do things from a quality and cost perspective,” said Cummings. “It helps our frontline supervisors to see we’re investing in them. Development at this organization is an important piece of who we are. I think that’s why people stay.”