As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, the demand for nurses continues to rise. Hospitals have begun to reach capacity and nurses are experiencing levels of stress and exhaustion like never before. Although nurse retention was an ongoing issue prior to COVID-19, this pandemic has only made it worse.
Becker’s Hospital Review conducted a study which surveyed RN’s, concluding that 61 percent of respondents said that as a direct result of COVID-19 they are planning on quitting and leaving their current nursing positions. To support this, Professors Young-Jae Kim, So-Young Lee and Jeong-Hyung Cho studied nurses’ job engagement and retention during COVID-19 and found that job retention intention was extremely low for those working in COVID-19 related divisions. Further suggesting “that the differences in job engagement and job retention intention of nurses working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 situation depend on their social characteristics and support.”
Consequently, it is imperative for hospital leaders to ensure that nurses are fully equipped with the resources they need to be able to have top performance. Below we examine essential strategies you should implement to increase overall nurse retention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is essential to create a safe environment for all nurses. To do this, it is crucial that nurses are provided with a comfortable environment where they are able to discuss any safety concerns. Additionally, having a good foundation of trust is key. This enables individual workers to communicate potential patient safety concerns.
Providing consistent up-to-date safety training is important to ensure that all nurses are aware of new protocols, especially those surrounding COVID-19. Implementing these safety training programs can help make nurses feel more secure, knowledgeable and safe within the ever-so-changing medical environments.
- Mental Health
While nurses are faced with an environment that can cause them to experience many psychological challenges and burnout on a daily basis, during COVID-19, nurses’ working environments have become more exhausting than usual. In response, a study by Maben and Bridges suggested that nurses need psychological and mental health support.
In efforts to provide mental health support, having a strong at-work support system is imperative. Providing all nurses with excellent leadership and management, will create an inclusive environment. Incorporating on-site self care measures such as break rooms or designated quiet areas for nurses to “take a moment” or to decompress, will additionally aid in mental health efforts. Lastly, having mental health check-ins, debriefings and on-site psychological support should be heavily enforced, especially for the emotional distress caused by COVID-19.
An article published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that having “meaningful support for emotional distress during the pandemic, can enable healthcare workers to trust that their organization is putting its people first, which, in turn, can enable them to feel psychologically safe and empowered to speak up about safety concerns and workarounds implemented on the frontlines.”
In efforts to keep all nurses well informed, providing up-to-date training and certifications will be highly beneficial. Administer association-based education opportunities and advancements and make sure to consider subsidies or scholarships for nurses to encourage completion of programs/conferences/certifications.
It is also important to provide specific training such as Resilience training. Developing a nurse resiliency training program will not only result in a positive work environment but will also increase patient satisfaction and reduce burnout. An article published by Avant Healthcare suggested incorporating mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) into a resiliency training program, as this promotes mindful practices such as meditation and breathing exercises.
Cross-training is another program worth implementing. This program can be created to qualify nurses to work outside of their current role. Cross-training is extremely beneficial as it allows nurses to support units in need and can avoid gaps in patient care when demand is high, such as during COVID-19.
While nurses want leadership to hear their concerns and act accordingly. It is essential to provide leadership training to develop strategies and education to ensure the best success for all. Creating an environment with open dialogue allows all staff to build trust, especially with those in a leadership position. Implementing weekly discussions and tools such as “brain boards” to facilitate communication and solutions of any problems, will improve overall long-term productivity seen by nurses.
- New Nurses
As the nursing profession has gained a lot of traction in recent years, many new nurses are entering the workforce. As mentioned earlier, it is essential to welcome these new nurses with a foundation of trust and communication. This will result in engagement and dialogue. Additionally, during this time, it is essential to provide extra support for new nurses working with COVID-19 patients, so that they are able to properly cope with the high levels of stress.
Implementing a feedback system will also be extremely valuable. This will allow new (and current) nurses an opportunity to comment on any concerns or criticisms they would like to highlight. As new nurses can feel too intimidated to present concerns to leadership, implementing an online feedback solution such as VITAY, can facilitate discussion that may not have been had otherwise.
Nursing duties typically involve working in teams to carry out all tasks. Therefore, in such a difficult situation like a pandemic, team formation that includes a nurse who is older and more experienced could help improve nurses overall engagement and retention intention. Additionally, creating a nurse residency program has been proven to be extremely valuable as it increases retention rates while reducing turnover costs and promoting patient safety.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a global issue, the need for nurses will continue to increase. This means that it is more important than ever to secure nurse retention. To do so, implementing safety strategies, supporting mental health, providing additional training and acknowledging new nurses are all essential to successfully retain nurses throughout the pandemic. However, these measures should continue long-term, post-pandemic.
Investing in nurse retention, will not only stabilize the workforce but will “promote nurse engagement, improve team performance and patient safety, and decrease burnout”, says Robin Hertel, EdS, MSN, RN, CMSRN, president of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN).
So implement these strategies now, before it’s too late!