Solutions to a Shortage Play Video

Rebecca Cowan, BSN, RN; Kara Cowan, BSN, RN; and Brianne Ecker, BSN, RN, CPN

Like most people who decide to go into nursing, Brianne Ecker has a passion for helping people, especially children. She graduated from the nursing program at the University of Maine (UMaine) in December of 2012 and went on to become a pediatric nurse at Eastern Maine Medical Center. “It was extremely gratifying to be a new grad and be on the pediatric floor because it doesn’t happen often,” Brianne said.

In Brianne’s case, just graduating from the nursing program was a feat the majority of her classmates did not achieve. She enrolled with roughly 120 other students, and says about 40 graduated with her. National studies suggest that those who do graduate won’t last very long in their careers. According to a study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nearly one in five nurses will leave the profession after the first year because the transition from school to work will be too difficult.

One in three will leave after the first three years. “People get into it, but they don’t stay,” Brianne said, but she is bucking that trend and credits part of that to her supportive family. Her sister, Rebecca (Becca) Cowan, was there for her during nursing school. In fact, her sister was there alongside her in the classroom. “I was actually in all of my nursing programs with my sister Brianne, which made it easier. When we began, we actually lived together for part of it, and that made it a lot easier,” explained Becca.

After graduation, Brianne and Becca both took their nursing exams together. Brianne started working on Eastern Maine Medical Center’s pediatric floor in January 2013. Becca went to work with an older population at an assisted living facility. “My love is with the elderly. I really started loving their stories and everything that they teach you,” she said.

“There may be a nursing shortage in Maine, but there’s no shortage of nurses in my family, thanks to EMHS.”
- Kara Cowan, BSN, RN

These two sisters aren’t only setting an example for other nursing students, but for yet another member of the family—their younger sister Kara Cowan, who’s also a graduate of UMaine’s nursing program.  “You never really know what’s coming through the door and that’s what really enticed me,” said Kara. She and her two older sisters agree there’s a lot of pressure on nursing students and new nurses. “It’s a profession that’s held to really high standards. So, I think the pressure of going through nursing school knowing that you need to be the best is and can be really difficult for nurses and students coming out of school,” Kara explained.

That’s why Eastern Maine Medical Center launched a nurse residency program in 2016. The program consists of a four-hour workshop once a month, an evidence-based practice project, and additional simulation sessions throughout the year at the Husson University Simulation Lab. The monthly workshops include topics focused on leadership, patient outcomes, and professional role. Workshops also include small group discussions. This allows residents an opportunity to discuss the clinical application of the topic as it relates to their own experiences to gain support, insight, and confidence.  

Deb Sanford, MBA, MSN, RN, EMMC vice president of Nursing and Patient Care Services, says Eastern Maine Medical Center is hoping to do what Duke University did with its nurse residency program, which was to reduce its dropout rate from 28 percent to five percent. “This is not going to be the only thing that solves our nursing shortage in the state; what it is going to do is keep nurses, who are really good and really caring for patients, in the profession longer and help them really develop a maturity so that they feel confident in their practice,” Deb said.

“Maine’s nursing shortage is not likely to go away, but we are making strides to keep up with demand.”
- Catharine MacLaren, PhD


Catharine MacLaren, PhD, vice president of Talent and Diversity at EMHS, says the system has been preparing for this nursing shortage for the past decade. She says the biggest problem is the changing demographics in our state. “Maine’s nursing shortage is not likely to go away, but we are making strides to keep up with demand,” Catharine said. EMHS has built a strong network with the nursing schools and the nursing associations across Maine. We are recruiting across the US and even into Canada. We are also relying more on social media. Eastern Maine Medical Center’s residency program is another key recruitment tool.

“We have actually had new grad applicants reach out to us because we have a residency program. Now, there are plans to make it systemwide, which would mean that it could incorporate every aspect of what we do. This model will help new nurses in particular by exposing them to all avenues of nursing. This will also assist them in making more informed decisions about where they want to pursue additional training and experience.”

Other hospitals in the system, such as Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, have also developed programs to retain and recruit nurses. Maine Coast’s nurse graduate program is showing some early signs of success. Graduate nurses in the program have regular meetings over the course of the year with the assigned nurse preceptor and unit clinical director. They also meet with their chief nursing officer once a month. Graduate nurses also have the opportunity to participate in observational learning and job-shadowing on the various units that patients might visit during a hospital stay.

As for the three sister nurses—Brianne, Becca, and Kara—they agree that helping new nurses build confidence is critical.

“I think that as long as we continue to support our nurses, that shouldn't be a problem,” Becca said.

“Eastern Maine Medical Center was extremely supportive to help me become the nurse that I am today,” said Brianne.

According to one study from the Maine Nursing Action Coalition, the shortage of nurses in Maine will go from 600 in 2015 to 3,200 in 2025. Efforts like the residency program at Eastern Maine Medical Center are helping to reverse the trend one nursing student at a time. Kara is the only one of the three sisters to have gone through the residency program, but all three sisters love what they do and plan to stay.

“There may be a nursing shortage in Maine, but there’s no shortage of nurses in my family, thanks to EMHS,” Kara said and her two sisters agreed.   

If you are interested in learning more about our nurse residency program or are interested in a nursing career at EMHS, call 207-973-7100 (the Talent Acquisition phone line) and ask to speak with a Nurse Recruiter.