Community Nurses

April 10, 2024

1199 mag community nurses 1.jpg

How one forward-thinking RN is tackling the recruitment crisis head on.

Even before COVID, it was difficult to recruit and retain quality healthcare workers, especially RN’s. As staffing levels grew even worse during the pandemic, Delta Williams, an 1199 RN member at Brookdale Hospital for 32 years, decided it was time to do something about it. “I noticed we were not retaining nurses, we’d get nurses and then they would leave,” says Williams. She also noticed another problem. “The student nurses, when I would preceptor them, I saw they were lacking clinical training.”

Being passionate about education, Williams wanted to both help the hospital keep nurses—and help nurses get the training they needed.

Since July 2022, when she started the Nurse Extern Program at Brookdale, Williams estimates roughly 80 percent of her mentees have stayed on. The hospital now has a core group of RN’s who feel it truly made a difference for them. “Joining the program was the best decision I ever made,” says Ania Jean-Louis, RN who came into the program as a nursing student at Medgar Evers College. “I got the hands-on experience as an extern doing everything that the nurses were doing except giving medication, it was a good thing,” says Jean-Louis. For Jonathan Agyekum, RN and recent graduate from LIU-Brooklyn, it was eyeopening. “I thought it was just [going to be] clinical experience, but when I got here it was the teaching, getting involved, and working hand-in-hand with the nurses—it was more than I thought it was going to be. It’s working with real people that give you real feedback, not just working with mannequins [like in school], real people with real feelings.”

The program consists of three levels: Level 1 provides nursing students with real world experience, training, and education alongside RN’s in the field; Level 2 enables recent RN graduates and Permit nurses to strengthen their skills; and Level 3 is a remedial program to help healthcare workers pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and receive their nursing license.

1199 Mag Community Nurses stack.pngFor Williams, it wasn’t just about the training, but also developing a sense of community among the RN’s. “I feel like a fulltime mom sometimes,” Williams laughs. “I’m available 24-7, [the externs] can call me whenever, wherever, no matter what. I was on vacation in South Africa and still got a call,” Williams said. As generous with her time as Williams is, the externs know that she also expects a lot from them. “She really cares and wants the best for us and from us. She has high standards, but that’s what makes the program a success,” says Jean-Louis.

Kedene Brissett, RN and graduate from Medgar Evers, says, “she reminds me of my mother who is also an RN; they have similar personalities. She’s on point and gets straight to the point — that’s great as a leader.” Agyekum adds, “She’s thorough. She gives us all the resources we need and gives us opportunities to make mistakes. And she can be tough — but sometimes, we need that tough love.”

The community goes beyond just the connection with Williams. Eduardo Rentas, RN and graduate from Medgar Evers College appreciates the camaraderie from the program. “Graduating nursing school is such a difficult process, so it’s good to form our own group to support each other, and that [same feeling] has passed onto here. We spend a lot of time with each other on the floor, see each other a lot, so it became another kind of small family. And, when we see newer students, we help them out and answer their questions — and that’s cool,” says Rentas.

It's both recruitment and retention that’s key for Williams, not only for the skills of the students, but to make a difference in the larger Brownsville community where Brookdale is located. “My goal is to educate the future generation, so they can take care of the patients, says Williams. “Brownsville needs a lot of care, we know that because of where people live, they don’t always receive the same type of service as everywhere else. I want to create an environment that welcomes them here. There are disparities and I want to take care of some of that. It’s having a great effect on the students.”

Agyekum feels the same way. “I live in the community and see this as giving back to the community; we don’t get that much healthcare funding and we need this [hospital], it’s beneficial to stay and help here,” he says.

Rentas adds, “There’s a sense of pride you get when working at a safety-net hospital. Without it, hundreds of thousands of people would be without healthcare. It feels good to be a part of a hospital that gives back and takes care of people in the community.”

The program runs year-round and accepts externs on a rolling basis, “wherever I can get them, I put them in,” says Williams. By the end of 2024, it will have 50 students that have gone through the program, and Williams is always looking for more. “Right now, I get students from Medgar Evers College and LIU, but I have sent out letters to connect to more schools. “Fingers crossed that they will respond,” Williams adds, “because we have departments that would love to have them.”

The students are excited to share their wonderful experience with others. “I got all the experience I have now because of this program, I want to give back to Brookdale and make people know this program was a success,” JeanLouis says. “I want people to see me and say, ‘Oh, she’s from the program at Brookdale.’”

Agyekum adds, “Jump on [this], you can’t buy this kind of experience. This program helps to prepare you for the real world while you’re still in school. You’ll get so much experience. And it [helps you] feel comfortable that you chose the right profession.”