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Nurses helping nurses

Posted Mar 18th, 2024

We are Niagara Health is a series of stories that celebrates the incredible people working and volunteering in our organization and how they make a difference in the lives of patients and coworkers every day.

Registered Nurse Angela Crane is a Clinical Coach at the Niagara Falls hospital

Registered Nurse Angela Crane is one of eight registered nurses serving as coaches to their colleagues in the Clinical Scholar Coaching Program.

Carolle Vaillancourt has no shortage of practical tips to help nurses enhance patient care.

The Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) at the Welland Hospital also has plenty of time management tricks to help her colleagues get the most out of their days.

They’re “the little things they don’t teach you in school” that were shared with Vaillancourt by veteran nurses when she started working at Niagara Health 17 years ago. And they’re helpful pointers she now offers to new RPNs and registered nurses as a clinical coach with the Clinical Scholar Coaching Program. 

“I’m just supporting them along the way so they can find their grasp,” Vaillancourt says. “There are so many who are new and it can be overwhelming. I am like the mama nurse looking after the baby nurses.”

The Clinical Scholar Coaching Program launched last fall at Niagara Health as a six-month pilot funded by the Ministry of Health to support newly graduated nurses, internationally educated nurses, nurses looking to upskill and those transitioning into the workforce.

The program is helping to transform care at Niagara Health by broadly increasing nursing competency and helping nurses move along their career trajectories toward becoming expert practitioners.

Vaillancourt is one of six RPNs and eight registered nurses across the organization in a coaching role. She was a natural fit – “Everybody knows me for my tips and tricks,” she says – and also keenly aware of the need for nurse mentors right now with the current health human resources challenges.

“When I started, it was almost all senior staff and very few new staff,” she recalls. “We were very supported by senior nurses and there was always someone around to help you. Now it’s the reverse. A lot of senior nurses have retired, and we have a lot of new nurses who need support.”

Unlike Vaillancourt, Registered Nurse Angela Crane didn’t have mentors to turn to when she began her career. She had a ‘float nurse’ she could find on shift and ask for help, but more times than not, “sink or swim, you just had to get it done,” Crane recalls.

Having a clinical coach, like the role she now plays to support nurses at the Niagara Falls Hospital, would have made her school-to-work transition easier, she notes. Crane could have tapped that person for help with workflow, scheduling questions, and some clinical tasks would have been less stressful, knowing she had support close at hand.

Clinical coaches support some of Niagara Health’s strategic priorities, including falls prevention, sepsis management, pressure injury prevention, responsive behaviours and anything else identified by nurses in a clinical area.

“If the nurse is comfortable with what they’re doing, they’ll be more comfortable with patients. When people see me at the bedside, they’re comforted seeing me support new nurses, and it helps build rapport with patients, too."

RPN Carolle Vaillancourt answers questions for a nurse at the Welland Hospital

Registered Practical Nurse Carolle Vaillancourt (right) helps Registered Nurse Kelsey Martin with a question at the Welland Hospital. Vaillancourt is one of six registered practical nurses serving as a clinical coach to support her nursing colleagues on the job. 

“They’ve got a broad knowledge,” says Charlene Duliban, Manager of Clinical Services, Nursing, who oversees the program. “The coaches are supporting and reinforcing practices to ensure consistency and standardization of care in all clinical areas across Niagara Health sites. This is one strategy to support our current nurses but also reinforce expectations and standards of care with new nurses, too.”

Coaches also participate in huddles and collaborate with managers, nurse educators and program leadership to identify and prioritize any additional training goals specific to a program.

Crane, who has always had an interest in teaching, has a unit-specific checklist of skills that she takes her cues from in addition to fielding real-time questions nurses may have as they care for patients. The reward is seeing her colleagues’ confidence grow on the job, including being able to explain to a patient what they are doing as they do it.

“There’s less fear and sometimes when they’re taking on a role and they do feel stress, they know they can come to their coach to help them,” she says. “The hope is they feel they can trust me enough that they feel comfortable coming to me for help.”

Coaching for better patient care

Without her, Vaillancourt or their coaching colleagues, nurses with questions or who need support would have to look for a senior nurse to help them, ask the charge nurse or call a nurse educator, all of whom could be busy with other pressing tasks or on another unit.

“Now they have time to learn a skill hands-on at the bedside without the rush of getting it done,” Crane says.

And that translates into better patient care, Vaillancourt notes.

“If the nurse is comfortable with what they’re doing, they’ll be more comfortable with patients,” she says. “When people see me at the bedside, they’re comforted seeing me support new nurses, and it helps build rapport with patients, too. Those little moments help patients who might be feeling scared or nervous.”

Based on the monthly data submitted by coaches, the pilot project, which ends March 31, has been a success. Hundreds of nurses have participated, either through one-on-one coaching or in huddles.

But that isn’t all the numbers show, Duliban notes.

“We’ve learned some great things,” she says. “It gives us a pulse on practice, barriers to practice and what we can do to continue to elevate nursing practice across all sites.”

Crane, who always had ambitions of being an educator, has now taken a full-time clinical educator position at the Niagara Falls Hospital in medical/surgical and the ambulatory clinic.

“The coach role certainly helped me prepare for the next step in my career,” she says.

Vaillancourt, who coaches RPNs and RNs on three floors at Welland, says she hopes the ministry will make the pilot permanent. Like Crane in Niagara Falls, she has become known to – and trusted by – nurses throughout the units she supports.

“It would be sad to uproot that,” Vaillancourt says. “The need is there. The need is great.”

Niagara Health System