Ohio is one of three states in a pilot project that will pair mentors with new nurses to reduce high turnover rates at hospitals and improve patient care.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing chose Ohio, North Carolina and Illinois to participate in the study that aims to smooth the transition from college to high-stress hospital jobs. Five states applied to be in the study.

If it works, hospitals across the country will adopt mentoring.

"You're dealing with such a vulnerable population that you want to assure that there is a good transition for patient safety," said Betsy Houchen, executive director of the Ohio Board of Nursing.

Compared with 20 or 30 years ago, nurses today care for sicker patients who suffer with more complex health conditions. As a result, 25 percent of new nurses leave their jobs within the first year.

"That honeymoon stage for new nurses, that window closes very quickly," said Catherine Luchsinger, chief nursing officer for the Mount Carmel Health System.

"In that first year, we see a very large turnover, and that costs hospitals a lot of money."

This project will match new nurses with mentors they can go to with questions and concerns. It's similar to nursing school, organizers say.

Each state will have 25 test sites - either a single, large hospital or a group of smaller hospitals. Some centers will use the nurse-mentor approach; others will be control sites.

Sixty-six Ohio hospitals applied to be part of the study, including all of the Mount Carmel and OhioHealth hospitals. All will be involved, said Nancy Spector, director of regulatory innovations for the council.

There are two phases of the study: One will focus on registered nurses at hospitals; the other will work with registered nurses outside hospitals and licensed practical nurses in various settings.

Patient-outcome data and hospital turnover rates will be collected. If the project improves both, the practice would be encouraged at hospitals across the country.

The first phase of the study starts July 1 and will end in October 2012.

The nation's 3 million nurses represent the largest group of health-care workers. Aging baby boomers are expected to increase the demand for them in the coming years.

Houchen said 8,094 registered nurses and 4,836 licensed practical nurses received their licenses in Ohio last fiscal year.

A person can become a registered nurse with a two-year associate's degree. Licensed practical nurses complete a one-year program.

Ann E. Schiele, president of the Mount Carmel College of Nursing, said schools do all they can to prepare nurses.

"The minute you step into that new role, no matter how prepared I think our graduates are and they think they are, it's an adjustment," she said.

"Having a mentor working with them, someone to go to on an ongoing basis ... I think it will not only improve retention, but also the quality of care."

The second phase of the study, which will look at registered nurses who work outside hospitals and licensed practical nurses, starts in April 2012 and will end in October 2013.