exhausted nurseReports of nurses leaving the profession during the pandemic due to burnout and overall distress was the impetus for a UWindsor-led research project that will develop a course to psychologically prepare nursing students for work in hospitals during health-care crises. Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy/Pexels.

Project to train nurses to cope with health-care crises

A new research project out of the University of Windsor aims to ensure nursing graduates have the extra psychological preparation they need to work in hospitals during health-care crises.

Flowing from interviews with local nurses during the pandemic, the project will yield a 10-week training program for senior nursing students. It will first be offered at the UWindsor Faculty of Nursing, then rolled out at the University of Ottawa and Queen’s University.

Dana MénardThe pandemic has decimated the nursing profession, said psychology professor Dana Ménard, the lead researcher on the project. Dr. Ménard, fellow psychology professor Kendall Soucie, and nursing professors Laurie Freeman and Jody Ralph, conducted research during the pandemic that showed nurses leaving the profession in droves after suffering depression, burnout, anxiety, trauma, alcohol and substance abuse, and overall distress.

While many older nurses took early retirements, young nurses decided to start new careers.

“Young nurses have left the profession saying this is not what I signed up for,” said Ménard.

“The older nurses are retiring early and we’re losing the young nurses, too. We’re gutting the profession at both ends, so we have to do something.”

Ménard has received a $406,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop the training program. It comes from special government funding to research the wider impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the project, Ménard has again teamed up with Drs. Soucie, Freeman, and Ralph, as well as Marian Luctkar-Flude from Queen’s University and Jane Tyerman from the University of Ottawa. UWindsor’s Erika Kustra, director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning, and Nick Baker, director of Open Learning, will lend their expertise to the program, as will Amanda McEwan and Debbie Rickeard, learning specialists in the nursing faculty.

The program will be called STRONG — short for Simulated Training to improve Resiliency Of Nursing Groups. It will be launched as a pilot project, with nursing students and nurses currently working in hospitals having input during the program’s development and delivery.

“The pandemic has shown us that new nurses, who are overwhelmingly female and young, may be at increased risk of negative health consequences due to work stress,” Ménard said.

The program will improve not only the well-being of new nurses, but the health-care system overall, she said.

“To preserve the safe, sustainable, and effective functioning of the Canadian health-care system over the next decade, it is crucial to retain a greater proportion of new nurses entering the workforce… This program will help lay the groundwork.”

—Sarah Sacheli