Cassie Chaffin, RN, is set to take first-year nurses at Norman Regional Health System to new heights through a first-of-its-kind nurse residency program.


by Bobby Anderson – Writer/Photographer

There’s nursing school and then there’s the nursing unit. What lies in between keeps new nurses up at night.
I didn’t learn that. I wasn’t taught this.
The questions, the self-doubt and the unyielding new situations swarm around every new nurse like flies.
It’s normal, Cassie Chaffin, RN, says.
But you shouldn’t have to go through it alone.
That was the thinking when Norman Regional Health System leaders tapped Chaffin to build a one-of-a-kind nursing residency program.
The new nurse residency coordinator will help lead Norman Regional’s newest – or baby nurses – into the next phases of their careers whether that be in intensive care, oncology, pediatrics or out on the med-surg floor.
The yearlong nurse residency program will not replace unit-specific trainings and competencies, but will provide broader education and support on how to be successful as a nurse.
Based on curriculum developed by the Vizient/AACN Nurse Residency Network, participants will attend training once a month focused on a variety of topics, including leadership development, quality outcomes, professionalism, documentation, self care, crucial conversations and more. Nurses will also complete an evidence-based research project by the end of the program.
Vizient tabs the best projects nationally and invites them to be presented at a national residency conference.
Norman Regional’s program will be the first in Oklahoma in the Vizient network.
Chaffin was hired as the Nurse Residency Program coordinator to ensure the successful implementation of the program. In her new role, she will also collect the data necessary to apply for program accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
“To me, it means they are even more committed that they are doing it correctly and that they wanted to the best outcomes,” Chaffin said of the path toward certification. “They don’t want to just say ‘we have a residency program.’”
Chaffin said the OKC VA Health Care System is the only accredited nurse residency program in Oklahoma.
Two years of data collection sits in front of Chaffin before the program can apply for accreditation with an academic partner.
But NRH’s newest nurses will benefit immediately beginning August 9 when the first cohort launches.
The first class of between 16 and 20 nurses with a year of experience or less will gather monthly and work on an evidence-based project along the way.
“They will find ways to better their unit and possibly implement a plan with the help of senior leadership,” Chaffin said.
Established nurse residency programs have seen improvements in retention rates among first-year nurses; increased confidence levels among participants; and stronger critical-thinking skills that lead to better understanding about why nurses perform certain tasks.
It also creates a support system of peers at the same point in their nursing careers.
Chaffin has 16 years of nursing experience and completed a two-year nurse internship program similar to a nurse residency program in Dallas after graduating from the University of Oklahoma’s (OU) College of Nursing in 2001.
It’s a homecoming for Chaffin, who previously worked as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Norman Regional Hospital from 2004 to 2008 before leaving to help develop a nurse residency program at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City.
Two years ago, Chaffin moved back to Norman from Shawnee. The opportunity to not have to drive to the city day was just of the many things that drew her back to the Norman Regional Health System.
Chaffin harkens back to the residency program she went through as a new nurse in Dallas.
“I think that’s what helped make me passionate about wanting a more in-depth orientation,” she said. “We had four months of didactic .. of giving the why behind everything we were doing and going more in-depth. Instead of just going to start an IV we learned why we were starting an IV and why they ordered those fluids.”
“We all started together.”
Chaffin says research points to nearly 75 percent of new nurses leaving their unit within the first year.
She says she’s happy to return to Norman Regional to launch what she feels is an essential program for new nurses.
“New nurses go through a reality shock at some point realizing that nursing isn’t exactly what they learned in nursing school and that people’s lives are in their hands,” she said. “This program ensures we have the best quality nurses by providing education between their transition from nursing school to a bedside position.”

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