PrintPreparing nurses to work in critical care can be a challenge. There’s a lot for new or transferring nurses to learn, and for a unit that is typically already struggling with higher turnover rates, making sure that you have everyone fully-prepared ready to care for patients (while keeping them on the floor instead of in a classroom) can seem like an impossible task.

I recently spoke with Jan Degulis of the Education & Professional Development office at St. Joseph Healthcare in Nashua, New Hampshire. Jan shared her experiences with me and my team, talking about how St. Joseph Healthcare ensures their critical care nurses (23 on permanent staff and two per diem) are ready for the patients who await them each day.

For context, St. Joseph Healthcare is a regional, full-service healthcare system serving the Greater Nashua area, western New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. With 208 beds, St. Joseph’s is a Magnet-recognized hospital and Primary Stroke Center. Their services include a well-known American Heart Association Training Center and Cancer Center.

St. Joseph Healthcare uses courses from the HealthcareSource eLearning Library which are managed, delivered, and tracked through their learning management system, HealthcareSource NetLearning. Here’s what Jan had to say about life in the Education & Professional Development office at St. Joseph Healthcare:

Valerie: Describe your typical day.

Jan: My day is rarely routine. Today I set up for a Basic Life Support (BLS) class; worked on documentation for our application to the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC) for re-approval as an Accredited Provider; worked with our Trauma Nurse Coordinator to pull together trauma education related records in preparation for our survey in July; finalized the July-August Continuing Medical Education (CME) schedule; prepped for tomorrow’s Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) renewal; fielded numerous phone calls regarding our American Heart Association (AHA) training courses; start working on the 50+ BLS rosters I have received this month and later today participate in a panel interview (our department has a Director position open).

Valerie: How are you currently preparing nurses to work in the critical care unit?

Jan: We use the Essentials of Critical Care Orientation (ECCO) program from the American Association of Critical-care Nurses (AACN). We’ve used that for years specifically for nurses hired into the ICU without any real critical care experience. We’ve got six nurses going through the program now. We rely on it quite a bit because we’re just not able to always find experienced nurses and I know we’re not alone. So, we’ve been able to use the ECCO program with quite a bit of success.

Valerie: What about your nurses with more experience. Do you put them through the program too?

Jan: We just did a BKAT… a Basic Knowledge Assessment Tool. We have it for a variety of disciplines and found that even some of the more experienced nurses scored low in some of the critical care areas. We plan on using ECCO along with some of the other AACN courses as a way to provide remediation.

Valerie: For nurses transferring into critical care, do you mandate ECCO?

Jan: Any nurse that transfers into critical care takes it. It is mandatory for all new nurses. If someone has worked in an ICU for years and years we won’t always make them go through the program but otherwise we use it to prepare all of our critical care nurses.

Valerie: How do you deliver the ECCO program?

Jan: We use it as part of a blended learning program. Nurses have approximately four months to go through the online portion which we deliver and track via the NetLearning LMS. During this time we also have them meet with their preceptor for hands-on skills work.

Valerie: What did you use before you used ECCO to orient new nurses?

Jan: Critical care orientation was delivered via a classroom-only program that one of our former critical care educators built. It was 160 hours of classroom time devoted to critical care and then the nurses would meet with a preceptor.

Valerie: And why switch to ECCO?

Jan: Time. You couldn’t get the nurses to sit in a classroom for four weeks. It’s a long time plus they’re so busy and short staffed that scheduling a class for this just wasn’t realistic. It’s much easier for them to go through the program at their own pace and still have time to take care of patients.

Valerie: You buy ECCO directly from the eLearning Library rather than through AACN. Any reason?

Jan: It’s easy! It integrates with the NetLearning LMS and automatically shows up in the students’ transcript once completed. There’s nothing extra that students or I have to do or add.

Valerie: What kind of feedback do you get about the program?

Jan: We don’t receive any complaints about the program. We actually now use it with AACN’s Preceptor program as well. We started using it for ICU staff because they were the busiest and not able to get to class for training and so the online format worked better. Now we’re delivering to other areas based on feedback and requests as well and our clinical educator and clinical nurse leader are working to identify what our needs are to get more use out of the eLearning Library course catalog.


To learn more about how to access AACN’s ECCO program through the HealthcareSource eLearning Library,  download our exclusive ECCO resources to receive a complimentary copy of our educational datasheet and more. 

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Valerie Granuzzo

About Valerie Granuzzo

Valerie Granuzzo is the Marketing Programs Manager at HealthcareSource. Valerie is responsible for the development of our educational webinars and marketing programs pertaining to our L&D solutions.