‘Should I stay, or should I go?’ Are NQNs leaving their first post within 12 months?

Jane Wray writes:

I recently posted a comment on Twitter about the fact that several of my former students had contacted me for a reference for a new job all within the space of three weeks. All had qualified about a year ago (Oct 2018) and it prompted me to ask on Twitter “is this usual? 12 months and then move?”.IMG_6712

There were a few responses to my poll (28 in fact) with 25% indicating that they would move to a new role, 36% were staying where they were and the biggest group – 39% were ‘still deciding’. However, what was interesting was the number of people who commented on the poll and this very issue of whether they should stay or move on.  Most of the comments indicated that NQNs did leave within 12 months or so of qualifying or they were about to leave sometime soon. This was because they got promoted or a better job offer from another organisation. Some left because they were seeking a new challenge and a few (the minority) said that they had not settled in their first post or did not feel it was a supportive environment.

So yes – NQNs are leaving within the first 12 months but this appeared to be for mainly positive reasons. If you have the offer of promotion (more money!), or a job that suits you better or a different role that provides you a new challenge then why would you not move? Alongside these comments were also some from nurses who had been qualified for over 20 or even 30 years who indicated that they too had moved on within or around 12 months of qualifying. This ‘moving on’ within the first 12 months is not a new phenomenon and is something that perhaps many NQN do. Nor does it appear to be a consequence of negative circumstances and situations.

I am mindful that NQNs moving on within 12 months impacts on workforce retention and that this is currently a huge challenge for most healthcare organisations particularly in the NHS. However, some of these reasons for moving on (promotion, different job or a new challenge) might easily be provided by the organisation that the NQN is currently with – and if this was offered, would they stay or still go?

Celebrating at the National Retention Awards in London

On Tuesday 19th November the first ever celebrating nursing retention awards were held in London. Jointly hosted by the Burdett Trust for Nursing and NHS Improvement, this was an opportunity to celebrate and thank those that have been doing brilliant work around staff retention across the country. There were several formal presentations on good practice –showcasing work done by NHS Trusts with support from NHS improvement to improve staff retention. Alongside the formal presentations, there were awards for excellent retention work across several categories. My take home message was definitely “place staff at the centre of your retention work; support and value them and then you will retain them”.

Jane Wray talks to Shirley Baines, Chief Executive, The Burdett Trust for Nursing celebrating at the National Retention Awards in London

Nominations (and winners) were as follows;

  • Best career planning and development offer (Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust)
  • Best retention offer to support equality, diversity and inclusion (Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust).
  • Best Support for those approaching retirement (Mid and South Essex University Hospitals Group)
  • Best Flexible working offer to support work-life balance (Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS)
  • Best Staff Engagement and Communications offer (Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust)
  • Best use of Data to inform Retention Initiatives (Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust)
  • Best Health and Wellbeing, Rewards and Benefits offer (Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)
  • Best Support to New Starters and Newly Qualified (The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust)


The final award of the day, the coveted “Retention Team of the Year”; this award went to University Hospitals of Derby and Barton NHS Foundation Trust.

Congratulations to all the award winners, and those who were nominated.  The day was rounded off nicely by Professor Mark Radford, Chief Nurse for Health Education England and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer at NHS England and NHS Improvement providing an update on the National Retention Programme (see the website for more details). Retention of the nursing workforce, and other professional groups working in the NHS remains a huge concern amidst reports of workforce deficits and safe staffing issues. From this event it was evident that there are organisations working hard to make a difference not just for NQNs but for all nurses.

Team members in Vancouver

We have been capturing newly qualified nurses (NQNs) experiences of transition via interviews during the last 12 months. We recently had several discussions with international colleagues on this important issue and the challenges experienced by NQNs during this time seem to be common and occur in different countries – despite the different educational preparation, health care systems and policy and practice context. In addition, this experience also transcends professional disciplines and it is evident that this period of transition challenge also applies to different professions and disciplines allied to health. The importance of support during the transition period, as well as on-going mentorship and/or preceptorship throughout careers to deal with and process challenging emotional situations is fundamental to the wellbeing of healthcare staff. This is relevant to NQNs as well as more experienced healthcare professionals.IMG_6526.JPG

These conversations took place whilst we were attending the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology “Qualitative Health Research Conference” (25-29 October) in Vancouver. This was such a great experience – a diverse and eclectic inter disciplinary mix of keynotes and concurrent sessions exclusively focused on qualitative health research. A conference full of stimulating debate in a welcoming and supportive environment. This was an opportunity to showcase the qualitative elements of our study – the student reflections on transition in a poster presentation (Change Challenge and Excitement: Reflections on the transition from student to newly qualified nurse). We also did an oral presentation focused on the interview data from the study – ‘Perspectives on transition from student to newly qualified nurse views of students, NQNs, academics and clinical managers’.IMG_6556

Our work was well received with lots of positive feedback. It has provided us with some great ideas for future research and some food for thought on how we can further interrogate our research findings.

Supporting student nurses as they are preparing to move into the world of work

david-barrettDr David Barrett writes: As part of the STaR project work with our students and partners in practice, we have been exploring different ideas to facilitate the transition period, when students exit the university and move into the world of work. One of the ideas that came out from our interviews (with students and clinical leaders) was the need for an opportunity for students to meet their future colleagues and see their place of work prior to starting their newly qualified nurse (NQN) role.

“…it will give them the opportunity to meet people…you know the code for the door…silly little things, it will make them less anxious on the day they start”

“…I would always advise people to start somewhere where they have already had a placement, just for simple things like you know where the coffee room is…you know how things work …they know your work ethic…they know what you are like”

The message from interviews was very clear: students would benefit from spending time with their first employer ahead of qualification. It was suggested that this would promote familiarisation and orientation, allow pre-induction processes to commence, potential training needs to be identified and for the ‘transition shock’ of new employment to be reduced.

From a University perspective though, final placements with the first employer raises some issues. It is important that the decision of a sign-off mentor/practice assessor on a student’s readiness for registration is entirely objective. If the final placement (and final assessment) takes place on the area where a student will be taking up employment, this may compromise objectivity. Equally, students must be judged as competent to work in any area as a Registered Nurse, not simply the specialty or area in which they will commence employment. For these reasons, the policy of the University of Hull is not to give student final placements in the setting in which they will be taking up employment (though other Universities do allow this).

Nonetheless, the STaR findings demonstrated a desire to allow students some exposure to their place of first employment (PFE) during their final placement. As a compromise, an initiative was designed that would allow them to spend up to two weeks (75hrs) of their final 12-week placement working within their PFE. Their performance during this time would not be formally assessed, though supervisors could provide testimony that was fed back to sign-off mentors. The PFE initiative was developed and agreed with our main local employers, and first implemented in the summer of 2019.

Initial feedback from the project has been positive. Two-thirds of students took the opportunity to spend time with their PFE (reasons for not doing so included previously having had a placement there or the area being too geographically distant to be practical). We asked those who had spent time with their PFE to rate (on a scale of 0-10) how useful the time had been. Orientation to the area (mean score 8.3) was deemed the area in which the initiative was most useful, followed by building confidence (7.9) and understanding the RN role (7.7).STaR mentimetre

We also asked the students what they found most useful. Many students highlighted that the time enabled them to meet their future colleagues (and vice versa) – “Getting to know the staff”; “Getting my face recognised before starting”. For other, there were practical benefits – “…getting uniforms and shifts and booking holidays” – and the ability to become orientated – “Understanding the ward’s routine”. One unexpected ‘benefit’ was raised by five respondents whose time on their PFE made them realise that they had made a mistake in accepting the post: “I learnt I did not want to work there”.

There were some teething troubles with the initiative. Awareness amongst practice areas – particularly those further afield – could be better, and the processes for arranging and recording time with the PFE could be enhanced. We are continuing to review the student feedback, and that from our partners, to refine the process and governance around this but we are really pleased to see that the initiative has been broadly successful and seems to have helped some students prepare for the transition from student to employee.

“If we are serious about nurse retention we must nurture and support our staff”

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(Left to Right: Jane Wray; Helen Gibson; David Barrett; Judy Brook; Rosie Stenhouse)

At this year’s Royal College At this year’s Royal College of Nursing (RCN) International Nursing Conference and Exhibition 2019 (Sheffield Hallam University, 3-5 September), the STaR project team were delighted to share our preliminary findings with an international audience of nursing academics, practitioners and researchers.

Jane Wray hosted a symposium of four papers on “Retention of newly qualified nurses (NQNs) in the UK National Health Service (NHS) on the 2nd day of the conference. David Barrett presented the findings from the STaR project Rapid Evidence Review, and this was followed by Jane and Helen Gibson (STaR project post-doctoral researcher) on the interview data “Perspectives on support during the transition from student to NQN: Views of students, NQNs, academics and clinical managers”. The third paper was by Dr Rosie Stenhouse (The University of Edinburgh) on “Job Embeddedness: Towards a Theory of Retention in Newly Qualified Nurses/Midwives” and she presented findings from interviews with 23 early career nurses about their experience of the workplace. This work is part of a larger longitudinal study exploring engagement levels, emotional intelligence, resilience and burnout yearly, retention, academic grade and following qualification, pay.  The final one was by Analisa Smythe (Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust) on “A qualitative study of experiences of online peer support for NQNs” – a project also funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing that used focus groups with NQNs to refine an online peer support intervention.

There was lots of interesting comments and questions and it was great to hear from recently qualified nurses in the audience whose experiences appear to be very similar to the ones we reported – further validating our findings. The wider discussion at the end of the symposium focused on workforce and retention and the key message was that if organisations want to attract and retain staff they need to ensure that all staff (not just NQNs) are given the ‘the right support, at the right time and in the right place’ and that ‘if we are serious about nurse retention we must nurture and support our staff’.

Throughout the conference workforce issues including safe staffing, staff shortages and retention were repeatedly referred to. We also attended a symposium led by Judy Brook (City University) on “Development and implementation of an intervention to increase retention and decrease burnout of early career nurses” – another project supported by the Burdett Trust for Nursing.  It was interesting to see how coproduction is being used to develop an intervention to support transition. This team have published a systematic review related to their project and you can find out further information about their work by contacting JudyBrook (judy.brook@city.ac.uk).

Supporting Transition and Retention of newly qualified nurses

shaz2Sharon Aldridge-Bent

The General Practice Nursing 10 Point Plan (GPN 10PP)  has given an investment of £15 million from the General Practice Forward View (GPFV) funding allocation, to support action which will address the significant workforce challenges and support improvements in General Practice nursing (GPN) by 2020.

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) has been commissioned by NHS England to develop an Induction Template specifically designed to enable employers to ensure that nurses in a first career destination role in General Practice are well supported when taking their first career step in primary care.

As a programme manager at the QNI, one aspect of my role has been to develop and write transition resources, such as Transition to District Nursing and more recently Care Home Nursing, which I had found relatively straightforward, as in my previous role as a senior lecturer in a university I had taught widely in these aspects of nursing.

I was less familiar with general practice nursing and in particular the orientation and induction of nurses into this discipline and, initially, I did wonder whether I was the right person to write this document.   As the work continued, I began to realise that my ignorance was an advantage, as I came with absolutely no preconceived ideas about the discipline and took a neutral approach to the evidence I collected. I scrutinised and analysed every aspect of the template with a new and fresh approach to how newly qualified nurses would approach this area of nursing.

The QNI has a systematic approach to this type of work, which involves gathering evidence from a wide range of perspectives. I set about the process with an extensive literature search of the subject matter. This search reaped some good quality and relevant studies, as well as several induction templates that had been performed in the same or similar settings.

I then developed a questionnaire that was circulated via Survey Monkey to our networks, requesting insight and input into what the challenges were around orientation and induction into general practice. It was important that this questionnaire went to all stakeholders that were to be represented within the template, e.g. student nurses, nurses thinking about moving into general practice, existing general practice nurses, employers, including GPs and Practice Managers, and Higher Education Institutions. The response was tremendous and this assisted me when formulating my ideas around the format of the template.

I then set about developing an external review group that would represent all perspectives of this work and I also took advice from NHSE colleagues regarding relevant participants. The review group consisted of representatives such as student nurse groups, general practice nurses, GPs and Practice Managers, as well as input from Health Education England, The Royal College of Nursing GPN Forum, Care Quality Commission, several universities and colleagues at the QNI. I visited all the regional delivery boards of the GPN 10PP to update widely on this work and undertook telephone interviews with the external reviewers. I also attended the newly formed Association of Academic General Practice Nurse Educators (AAGPNE) to get an understanding of how academic programmes for GPNs were being developed.

Upon drafting a first plan of the work, I chaired a small focus group of six general practice nurses where the document was scrutinised for accuracy and to ensure that there were no fundamental omissions. The external review panel were then sent the second draft for feedback before final edits and publication.

My personal reflection of developing this template was I felt very privileged to meet such committed and experienced nurses who had developed professionally, despite (at times) lack of acknowledgement and professional identity of other nurses working in adjacent specialities in the community setting. I was struck by how complex the role of the general practice nurse was and how it most definitely would appeal to newly qualified nurses, because all the knowledge and skills attained as a pre-registration nurse can be utilised in this role. Also, to add that:

‘Developing this template highlighted the urgent need for a comprehensive induction and orientation programme for all nurses new to general practice. This most certainly will assist with recruitment and retention of nurses in the primary care setting’.

The document is hosted on the GPN Single Point website. Click here to view the document (you will need to request access here.). The document can also be viewed on the QNI’s website.

Sharon Aldridge-Bent

Programme Manager, The Queen’s Nursing Institute

Email: sharon.aldridge-bent@qni.org.uk

Twitter: @saldri01

The role of clinical educators in supporting newly qualified nurses during transition

Bill Whitehead 30 June 2019

Bill-Whitehead-(3I’ve been interested in supporting newly qualified nurses (NQNs) during their transition from student to staff nurse since I first qualified in 1990.  It seemed obvious to me then that the provision of clinical educators in practice to support students should also be there to support NQNs.  I had learned a lot during my traditional three year apprenticeship but I hadn’t realised the full range of skills needed in the specialist area of acute medicine that I landed in.  These included an understanding of all the roles of the multi-disciplinary team, the treatment and care of patients with the specialist conditions on the ward and most importantly, an understanding of the social care required for the mainly elderly and often newly infirm patients on discharge.  This took me a while to learn and there were times when I thought it was beyond.  As a newly qualified former mature student, I knew that really what I needed was the time and support to learn.  Consequently, I started looking into the theory and evidence around NQN transition nearly thirty years ago.

The transition from student to registered nurse has long been known to be a difficult time for NQNs joining the register.  Marlene Kramer made this the subject of her PhD thesis in the 1960s and published her seminal book “Reality Shock: Why Nurses Leave Nursing” in the 1970s.  The main finding of her research, over fifty years ago, was that NQNs were less likely to leave early in their career if they had a supportive programme linking their time as a student to registrant to support the transition.  In the twenty-first century we have developed this supportive programme into preceptorship support programmes.  These are usually run entirely by the employer of the NQN but as Kramer found in what she described as the “anticipatory socialisation programme” the support for transition works best if it starts during the pre-registration education programme.  Where this can run seamlessly into local employers’ preceptorship programmes the transition shock for NQNs is understandably reduced to more manageable levels.  There has been plenty of research in the intervening half a century since Kramer’s work and at least two systematic reviews of these research projects in the last few years to support the need for a period of good supported transition arrangements.  The latest research includes Health Education England’s recent RePAIR project and the ongoing STAR project.

I’m the general secretary of the UK Clinical Nurse Educator Network (CNEnet). The network was set up to link up and share good practice between CNEs.  I co-founded this organisation with Liz Allibone because we had both done this job and both, separately, completed research which indicated the need for it.  One of the central roles of CNEs is supporting the transition of NQNs.  We know this from our own experience and from a recent survey of members which indicated that over 90% had a role in supporting NQNs and believed that it encourages NQNs to join their organisation and to stay with them.  Our research indicated that for best results an organisations preceptorship programme needs to provide three levels of support:

  1. A named more experienced registrant in their team as a preceptor
  2. A supportive team who recognise the need for NQNs to have time and support to learn the ropes
  3. An organisational level support programme ideally linked to local pre-registration programmes to provide a feeling of seamless supportive environment for the senior student transitioning into an NQN

This all needs dedicated staff to organise and sustain.  Therefore, the clinical nurse educator is not an “expensive luxury”, as some employers have believed in the past, but a “practical necessity”.  Without them, as Kramer proved fifty years ago, “nurses leave nursing” too early in their careers.

Could you add this to the bottom – For more information about the Clinical Nurse Educators Network see this link.

The Royal College of Nursing Congress 2019 – ACC Liverpool by Jane Wray

This year’s Congress took place between the 19 – 23 May and as always had a packed agenda with debates on a range of professional, clinical, educational and practice issues in addition to the exhibition and fringe events. Professor Anne Marie Rafferty—President of the RCN Council opened her first Congress with a rousing speech encouraging nurses and nursing to find their voice and stand up and speak out about matters that effect the profession.  Issues affecting the nursing workforce and especially safe staffing was a dominant theme throughout and I was particularly delighted to attend the session on ‘Transition from student to newly qualified nurse’ led by the RCN Newly Qualified Nurses Network which launched in December 2010 by Charlotte Hall. I attended with my STaR project hat on – and it was really inspiring to hear the NQNs stories from all the different branches of nursing and the wealth of advice students and NQNs shared with each other. Some really useful discussions:

IMG_5979 RCN Congress 2

Don’t Panic and Talk to Others – emphasizing the importance of both formal and informal support during the first 6-12 months. Talking with others, your peers, your friends, your family as well as your colleagues and preceptor.

Ask questions of your preceptor and team ‘How are you going to support me during this transition period?’ This is the period of time in which the team / your preceptor invest in you as a NQN. What does your preceptorship period look like? How long are you supernumerary for? What about your induction period? What happens after induction?

Accept that you are still learning – When you first staff you sometimes feel like you should know everything but just accept that you cannot know everything and you never will. Nursing is in almost constant change and you will keep learning not just in your first year of practice but throughout your career.

You can change your mind! – it is important to build trusting relationships with those that you work with but always remember that if this isn’t working for you – you can change your mind and choose to work elsewhere.

Finally it was really great to hear NQNs challenging the myth that you couldn’t work as a GPN as your first destination post and also how students and NQNs are ‘defenders’ of degree level education for nursing.

IMG_5969 RCN Congress

Photo: Charlotte Hall and the RCN Newly Qualified Nurses Network open the discussion on transition

Almost 5 months as an NQN! by newly qualified nurse Dan Gooding

I have now been qualified for slightly less than 5 months. In that time, I have learnt some hard and fast lesson about being a PICU Nurse. I have been apart of successful & unsuccessful arrests, I have made mistakes and owned up about it, which is super scary. Essentially, I realise that I am a really really junior nurse. But, a nurse I am, and gaining experience each shift I am doing.

What I have learnt is it takes time putting theory into practice. I am not as smart as people seem to think I am. Being dyslexic, I feel like I have to work hard! And I really worry when I struggle to learn something. But something I am realising now is that the first several months of being an NQN can feel like getting into a routine, and learning what to do in a situation. What as opposed to why. This stressed me out, because I like to know why, I like to have understanding, because knowledge is power. And not knowing is pants!

But now, finally, on occasion, I am starting to believe that I could be a half decent nurse. One of the band 7’s, Natalie, recounted an experience she had as a student nurse whilst in a tweet chat. She said “I had a busy patient in a cubicle, and I went home, drugs and obs all on time, balance right, handover went well. It was like a big ‘exhale’ I did it, it’s fine, I can do this!” And I am starting to believe that maybe I too will get there.

Admittedly, I have had some wobbles and shakes. But then I feel like I am making progress and that’s what matters. Being an NQN isn’t straight forward. But I am now starting to understand the “whys?” & “hows”. Don’t get me wrong. I have an absolutely *huge* way to go, but the theory I learnt in university is starting to click. And I enjoy what I do, and I think that is so so important. Sure, some days I feel like I am drowning, but I have never been in a mindset of “I’ve had enough and don’t enjoy my job.”

Retention of the NHS workforce is a long overdue focus and there is much to do, however we are pleased we are starting to see some early improvements – Professor Mark Radford RN, Director of Nursing – Improvement, NHS Improvement


Mark Radford

Retention of the NHS workforce is a long overdue focus and there is much to do, however we are pleased we are starting to see some early improvements – Professor Mark Radford RN, Director of Nursing – Improvement, NHS Improvement

19 months ago NHS Improvement was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Health to launch a retention programme to support trusts in the retention of clinical staff and to share knowledge, tools and best practice across the sector.

Over the last 12 months period we have done exactly this.  In the first instance, in partnership with NHS Employers we have led and delivered six retention masterclasses for over 500 participants from NHS providers. Through these, 110 NHS trusts (nearly 50% of all trusts) that were experiencing higher staff turnover rates received direct tailored support from us over a 90 day period. And where our cohorts are engaging fully with the programme staff turnover rates are going down. 71% of our nursing and mental health cohort 1 trusts (25 out of 35 trusts) have noted improvement in their staff turnover rates since starting the programme.

Our work with the trusts to support improvements in staff turnover rates has been published on the NHS Improvement hub website – Staff retention support programme: one year on.  This shares our outcomes through the use of a direct support model and the provision of national learning resources available to support providers. We have since developed and secured funding for national roll out to all provider organisations.

In terms of early year career support and newly qualified nurses (NQNs), there is a high turnover (at a median of 24% in most places), and for some Trusts this is because staff are moving on for better opportunities. Sadly this is not always the case: the reality for some early years nurses is that they have a very poor experience. They are often not supported beyond the preceptorship period, which is of varying quality and then many NQNs are left to fend for themselves. NQNs are also looking for career support and mapping at 1, 2 and 5 year horizons and they want someone to help with this. We know that early years nurses will stay if they feel valued – we all need to work harder to do this,  through career support, pastoral care and educational offer such as CPD.


For more information about our programme please email NHSI.Workforce@nhs.net , follow us on twitter @NHSImprovement #NHSRetention you can also contact us to suggest a retention resource you use or have developed via this link https://improvement.nhs.uk/account/suggest-resource/