Looking ahead at nursing workforce research

Prof Roger Watson UNI-8692Looking ahead at nursing workforce researchRoger Watson, Professor of Nursing, University of Hull

The STaR project is concerned with investigating the factors associated with the transition from being a nursing student to becoming a Registered Nurse and only one of the ‘hats’ I wear is as Principal Investigator on the STaR project. I am also Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Advanced Nursing (JAN). JAN has always focused on nursing workforce issues and one of our project advisors, Professor Jim Buchan, has written several articles and editorials for JAN and edited a special section. His articles include a seminal piece on the ‘greying’ of the UK nursing workforce and on turnover in the nursing workforce in the UK and internationally. Therefore, it is easy to see how Jim is well qualified to advise us on the work we are doing.

In relation to our project I looked at what was coming up in JAN in the near future and scanned our accepted and early view articles – all currently available online – and it is plain that nursing workforce issues continue to be the focus of investigation across the world. In the forthcoming contents we have articles from China, France, the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan.

The StaR project is about the transition specifically and although none of these upcoming articles address this directly there is not a great deal of research out there on the transition period. Our own rapid evidence assessment will establish a comprehensive evidence based overview of this particular period in the career of nurses. But the articles coming up in JAN – which probably reflect the situation in several high-quality nursing journals – point to the issues that nurses, including newly qualified nurses, face when they begin to work In the healthcare sector. The articles I identified point to factors such as: work environment and engagement (more engagement makes people want to stay); job satisfaction on turnover (higher job satisfaction makes nurses want to stay) and on delayed retirement (more satisfied nurses will delay retirement); burnout (less likely among midwives in family-friendly workplaces); and intention to leave (increased by job stress). So, while none of these studies are specifically concerned with the transition period being investigated in the STaR project they do point to some factors which may make transition more difficult; they also point to strategies that are likely to alleviate the negative aspects of that transition period.

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Can newly qualified nurses help ease the NHS workforce pressure? Only if we adequately support them

Dr Helen Gibson UNI-1023Can newly qualified nurses help ease the NHS workforce pressure? Only if we adequately support them – Helen Gibson, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, School of Health and Social Work, University of Hull

As the STaR project moves into its first phase of data collection, a recent report by James Buchan and colleagues for the Health Foundation reminds us of the workforce challenges in the NHS. Rising Pressure: The NHS workforce Challenge (2017) discusses two significant challenges or pressure points as the report refers to them.  One of these ‘pressure points’ is the removal of the nurse bursary and its impact on student numbers and the other is staff retention – something that is central to the STaR project.

To say that the NHS is its staff is unlikely an understatement; Buchan and colleagues note that ‘Staff shortages fundamentally affect the ability of the NHS to deliver its services’ and this important report states that the NHS in England has a shortage of 29,000 FTE staff in 2016 – one in 10 of all nursing posts. Nursing shortages are costly to the NHS and they negatively affect patient care and outcomes (Griffiths et al 2016).  So why are nurses leaving? And what can be done to keep them?

Quoting NHS Improvement, Buchan’s report notes that ‘A large proportion of leavers are for unknown reasons’.  However, the literature suggests that stress, lack of flexible working opportunities and opportunities for further development are issues that affect nurse’s decision to stay or leave the NHS (Watson et al 2009, Edwards et al 2015).  The Buchan (20017) report notes ‘that the NHS Improvement has recently announced a programme to improve staff retention in Trusts across England and bring down the leavers rate in the NHS by 2020’ However, we need to ensure that schemes to enhance retention are aimed at nurses at all stages of their career.

When we think of newly qualified nurses it’s tempting to envision nurses fresh out of university brimming with excitement about starting their career as a nurse.  For many, this is the reality with their first role as a nurse the beginning of what is generally a long, successful and exciting career within the profession.  However, we must not forget that for some newly qualified nurses their first year in the role can be a stressful and challenging time.  The literature suggests that some of the issues that impact on more experienced nurse’s decisions to leave the NHS such as those mentioned above also affect newly qualified nurses.

The STaR project will look at how Universities and practice staff can work together to support newly qualified nurses to ensure that they have the best chance of continuing their career in nursing.


Finishing University and starting employment is an exciting time for newly qualified nurses. 

Finishing University and starting employment is an exciting Dr Jane Wraytime for newly qualified nurses. – Dr Jane Wray, Director of Research, School of Health and Social Work, University of Hull

It’s the beginning of what is generally a long, successful and exciting career within the profession. This can however, also be a stressful or challenging time as they make the transition from student nurse to registered, fully autonomous practitioner. As the debate continues over a shortage of nurses and safe staffing levels, employers are looking at different ways to better support newly qualified nurses. For student nurses who are about to start this journey, it is really important that they prepare for this change in identity, status and their future careers.

The STaR Project (Supporting the Transition and Retention of newly registered nurses) is funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing and led by team at University of Hull consisting of Professor Roger Watson, Dr Jane Wray and Dr David Barratt. This three year project brings together employers, students and qualified nurses, service user consultants, Higher Education Institutions, Academic Support Tutors (AST’s) and Health Education England (HEE) with the aim of supporting transition into the workplace and enhancing retention.

If you would like more information about the project or are interested in becoming involved then please star@hull.ac.uk or 01482 463200 or follow us on Twitter @STaRnursehull