Retention has been a longtime issue for first-year nurses, and national data show that as many as 40 percent were leaving the profession after one year, she said.
Nurses typically get an orientation as they start their jobs, but often those are focused on practicalities, such as where supplies are stored or institutional rules, said Beth Cole, president of the Utah Organization of Nurse Leaders.
That training does little to help newcomers address other issues, such as managing patient loads, disagreements with doctors or handling families who are grieving or angry, she said.
"Nursing is often a very life-and-death experience, and one wrong decision can be very detrimental," said Cole, who taught at the U. for 36 years and is a former dean of Brigham Young University's nursing school. "It's a little different talking about it in class than when you are facing it in a clinical setting."
Residency programs are required for doctors but have been rarely offered to nurses, said Cole. The programs can be expensive and take veteran nurses away from patient care, so it's been hard for hospitals to justify the expense.
But research has shown that hospitals and other health care facilities gain a lot when they make investments in their staff.
"If they keep someone in the system longer than one year, they find they can really maximize what they get," Cole said.
The curriculum developed through the grant will be used by nurse educators at the U. and BYU, along with Dixie State University, Salt Lake Community College, Southern Utah University and Weber State University.
The coalition's hospital partners, which will house and shoulder the costs of the residency programs, include Davis Hospital and Medical Center, Dixie Regional Medical Center, Lakeview Hospital, University Hospital and Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
The George E. Whalen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City is also a coalition partner. The coalition is using an existing VA nurse residency as a model for the program it's developing, said Juliana Preston, executive director of HealthInsight and a coalition co-chairwoman with Keefe.
Another goal of the grant is to increase diversity among the ranks of Utah's nurses "so that we look like the patients we serve," Keefe said.
Utah is one of 20 states awarded grants from the "Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action," a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest health care philanthropy, and AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans.
The initiative grew out of recommendations from a two-year Institute of Medicine study of the challenges faced by the nation's 3 million nurses as the U.S. health care system changes to meet the mandates of the Affordable Care Act.