Keeping nurses happy is more than just a fuzzy organizational goal. For today’s hospitals, it’s a top priority that affects quality, patient safety and the bottom line. The Health Resources and Services Administration projects a 17 percent shortfall of registered nurses by 2010 that will rise to 36 percent by 2020. And consider that in just three years the average nurse will be more than 50 years old at a time when the demand for health services is expected to increase amid an aging population.
In anticipation of this shortage, hospital leaders need to develop strategies to retain the nurses they have—not an easy task in such a high-stress profession. In fact, a new survey of 1,700 nurses by Nursefinders, Inc., an Arlington, TX-based medical staffing firm, found that 35 percent are considering leaving the profession—and nearly half of these nurses cited job stress as the reason.
“There are greater expectations on the nursing profession than there were 10 years ago,” says Ed Russell, PhD, RN, chief nursing officer of Uvalde (TX) Memorial Hospital, a 66-licensed-bed rural facility about 90 miles west of San Antonio. “You have to put the resources together to get and retain nurses and create the environment that supports them.”
Last fall, the Texas Nurses Association awarded Uvalde with the Nurse-Friendly designation, which is based on 12 criteria the association deems essential for developing an ideal nursing environment. Uvalde reduced RN turnover from 14 percent in 2006 to 4 percent today.
Here are Uvalde’s top three tips for helping your nurses de-stress: 1. Give nurses a voice
Uvalde developed a formal committee called the Staff Nurse Leadership Council, which investigates and designs methods of enhancing care at the bedside and improving the working conditions and professional processes for nurses. Nurses volunteer to sit on the council, which represents all of the facility’s clinical nursing areas. 2. Give them more than a salary
Russell says his nurses’ salaries are competitive with other institutions in the region, but that Uvalde also offers continual retention bonuses based on the total hours of a nurse’s employment. In addition, he stresses the importance of expressing gratitude through awards and recognition programs.3. Mind the workload
Uvalde has a strict policy on nurse staffing—no pulling double shifts and no mandatory overtime. The hospital plans for an influx of patients during the winter months by offering nurses additional pay to work extra hours. This incentive program works, says Russell. “We use very little contract nurses from outside the hospital during high-volume periods because our nurses volunteer to work,” he says.—Rick Johnson