How Project LeaRN promotes lifelong learning

The Institute of Medicine’s 2010 report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” made recommendations to help nurses overcome barriers that prevent them from responding effectively to an evolving healthcare system. One of these recommendations—“Ensure that nurses engage in lifelong learning”—inspired Project LeaRN, an innovative program at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH). Located in southeastern Pennsylvania, LVH is a Magnet®-recognized academic community hospital.

A kind of mini-sabbatical, Project LeaRN enables experienced LVH nurses to make scholarly visits to other healthcare facilities to observe and learn best practices. Clinical nurses are invited to identify opportunities for improvement in their work settings and investigate evidence to help the organization excel. On their visits, LVH nurses learn best practices, with the goal of implementing these practices into their own.

Project LeaRN was made possible by a 2-year, $49,000 grant from an LVH educational trust fund (the Carl R. & Anne C. Anderson Trust.) The budget covers seven site visits. The first visit took place in 2013. Visits are budgeted for two clinical RNs for a maximum 3-day observational experience, with 2 additional travel days. Funding covers the nurses’ salaries for all time involved, plus travel, hotel, and meals. The host site receives an honorarium.

Evidence

The literature shows practice-based sabbaticals have succeeded from a cost-benefit perspective in business, industry, and academia. Though rare in the acute hospital setting, such sabbaticals are intended to boost retention, revitalization, and renewal; promote loyalty and organizational commitment; decrease burnout; and enhance employee productivity and satisfaction.

Selecting experiences and participants

At LVH, shared governance councils are involved in identifying projects and selecting participants. The purpose and goals of each site visit align with prioritized LVH and nursing services vision and goals. The host site must be a demonstrated center of excellence, preferably a Magnet-recognized organization, with staff willing to commit to an ongoing mentoring relationship. Participants, who represent various LVH sites and service lines, must demonstrate organizational longevity and engagement, leadership skills, and commitment to project leadership.

Outcomes

To date, LVH nurses have completed five site visits to organizations throughout the United States. (See Project LeaRN site visits.)


Implications

Project LeaRN experiences align with several requirements of the Magnet Recognition Program®:

  • Transformational leaders and clinical nurses pursue resources that support nursing and organizational goals.
  • Clinical nurses gain new knowledge by evaluating and incorporating evidence-based findings into their practice.
  • Innovations in nursing are supported, encouraged, and implemented in the organization.
  • Nurses participate in space design that improves work flow and enhances nursing practice.

The Project LeaRN program can be replicated in any practice setting to affect a wide variety of patient outcomes. It contributes to nurses’ professional development and enhances satisfaction of these valued, experienced employees. (See What Project LeaRN has meant to me.) By visiting other healthcare organizations, participating nurses get the chance to observe and learn, improve the quality of care, promote clinical nurse leadership, gain new knowledge to help transform nursing practice, and improve patient outcomes.

Selected references
American Nurses Credentialing Center. The Magnet Model® Components and Sources of Evidence: Magnet Recognition Program®. Silver Spring, MD: Author; 2013.

Institute of Medicine. The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. October 5, 2010. http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ThePracticeofProfessionalNursing/workforce/IOM-Future-of-Nursing-Report-1

Swenty CF, Schaar GL, Phillips LA, Embree JL, McCool IA, Shirey MR. Nursing sabbatical in the acute care setting: what is the evidence? Nurs Forum. 2011;46(3):195-204.

The authors work at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania. Kim S. Hitchings is manager of the Center for Professional Excellence. Karen Jones is a clinical nurse in the open heart unit.

Note: The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) does not endorse Project LeaRN products or services.

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