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SAIL Nursing Program: Investing in tomorrow's nursing leaders

Group of new nurses posing after the final SAIL program session

In the world of healthcare, the transition from nursing student to professional nurse can be as exhilarating as it is daunting. Recognizing this pivotal period, the SAIL program—Strengthening, Applying, and Integrating Learning—has emerged as a safe space of support and guidance for recent nursing graduates working at IWK Health. Through a blend of evidence-based practices, collaborative learning, and hands-on experiences, SAIL offers a comprehensive nine-month program aimed at empowering new nurses with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to excel in their roles.

Starting in September 2023, the first cohort of SAIL nurses finished the program as of May this year. While SAIL is a long-standing program in countries like the United States, this is the first of its kind to be implemented in Nova Scotia.

Second group of new graduate pose after final SAIL program session


“New nursing graduates come to practice with a lot of knowledge already,” says Betty Ann Robinson, registered nurse and professional development consultant at IWK Health. “We have great orientations and preceptorships for them, but that transition from being a student nurse to being a professional registered nurse can come with a few bumps.

“This program is intentionally devoted to strengthening, applying and integrating the learning they already know and applying it in practice," explains Robinson. “We're not necessarily teaching them new things, but we are reinforcing and extending the information they already have.”

SAIL's approach is informed by research indicating that the first six months of a nurse's career are crucial. By providing a supportive environment and evidence-based curriculum, the program aims to mitigate the challenges often faced by new nurses during their initial months on the job.

Registered nurse, Viki Wright echoes this, emphasizing the importance of creating a safe space where new nurses can feel comfortable. “It's the sentiment that ‘you're never alone’ that we try to emphasize. There's always someone there to ask a question to."

The program's curriculum is as diverse as it is comprehensive, focusing on four key learning outcomes: interpersonal communication, well-being, professional socialization, and social networks. From mastering time management to cultivating supportive relationships, SAIL equips participants with the tools they need to succeed in any area of IWK Health. Each monthly session blends practical knowledge with experiential learning, fostering a community of practice where new nurses can share insights, seek advice, and refine their skills.

Infograph outlining new hire roadmap: Hire, orientation, preceptorship, independent shifts, professional development, clinical skills

“One thing that we've seen is the building of relationships and connections across not only care areas, but programs, and we know from the evidence how beneficial that is,” says Jennifer Jollymore, clinical nurse specialist with IWK Birth Unit. “To have relationships and to understand the perspectives of someone else's day-to-day in another care area can help a lot for inter-unit relationships as well as when providing care such as transfers between units.”  

Through this shared experience, new nurses gain not only knowledge and skills but also a sense of belonging and camaraderie within the broader nursing community. From HR to clinical leaders, every voice is valued, ensuring that the program remains relevant and responsive to the evolving needs of new nurses.  

As the SAIL program continues to evolve and expand, it stands as a testament to the IWK Health Centre's commitment to excellence in nursing education and practice. Through its innovative approach, SAIL is not only nurturing the next generation of nursing leaders but also fostering a culture of support, collaboration, and continuous learning. In a profession where the only constant is change, SAIL is charting a course for success for nurses at every stage of their career journey.