How Can Leaders in Nursing Improve Nurse Retention Rates

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Nurse listening to advice from supervisor

Nurses are, in many ways, the backbone of the American health care system. Working in hospitals, private clinics, nursing homes, the pharmaceutical industry, and other medical settings, they provide crucial services to patients. Nurses work directly with patients more than almost any other clinical provider.

Nursing is also an in-demand field, with a higher projected growth rate than that of any other current position — and an alarming shortage of qualified workers. According to the World Health Organization, around 1 million additional nurses will be needed before 2022. Despite nurses’ significance to the health care industry, nurse retention rates are low. Read on to learn more about how nursing leaders address this growing problem, including by gaining additional skills with an online Master of Science in Nursing degree from Regis College.

What Is Nurse Retention?

Nurse retention refers to the rate at which existing nurses remain in their current position or in the field itself. Employee retention is important to workplace health in all fields, as it promotes the cohesion and cooperation of teams, increases efficiency, and improves employee satisfaction.

Nurse retention is particularly significant as it relates to the overall consistency and quality of patient care. When hospitals are short-staffed or when new nurses have to be onboarded and trained, patients miss out on crucial services and quality care from experienced health care providers working in a cohesive system.

Nurse turnover rates are alarmingly high. Research in the SAGE Open Nursing journal suggests that new hire losses among nurses range from 28.8% to as high as 49.6%. It also reports that overall nurse turnover rates range from 8.8% to 37%, indicating a dire need to examine the reasons for nurse burnout and job dissatisfaction to address the shortage.

Factors Affecting Nurse Retention Rates

There are a number of factors that have led to an increase in nurse turnover rates and the job dissatisfaction of many nurses. Some of the most common reasons for low nurse retention rates and the nursing shortage include the following:

Frustration with health benefits: Many nurses express dissatisfaction with their own health benefits and other aspects of their overall job package, such as vacation time and retirement plans.

Failure of nursing jobs to meet expectations: Some surveys of new hires suggest that health care administrators and nursing leaders aren’t doing all they can to ensure that nurses know what they’re getting into. Onboarding processes at hospitals and in other clinical settings don’t always give starting nurses a solid idea of what the job will entail and how best to cope with the stressors.

Nurse burnout: A combination of on-the-job stressors, heavy caseloads, and long work hours can affect nurse retention. Research published by the National Institute for Health Research indicates that nurses who work shifts that are longer than 12 hours are much more likely to quit within a single year than those with shorter work hours.

Aging population: As baby boomers age, more of the population than ever is likely to need long-term care in nursing homes, retirement communities, and clinical settings. The influx of new nurses has to keep up with the aging population to meet all patients’ needs.

Physical safety: In some cases, nurses are at high risk of threats to their physical safety on the job. New protocols could be implemented to protect nurses from the potential risks of long hours, hard physical labor, and contentious patient interactions.

Lack of mentorship and autonomy: Some nurses wish they had clearer lines of communication with their supervisors and received more consistent feedback. Others wish they could take on more responsibility at work and feel frustrated with their lack of overall mentorship from more experienced nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians.

Strategies for Increasing Nurse Retention

There are a number of strategies that nursing leaders and administrators can employ to increase nurse retention rates and decrease turnover. These strategies could improve overall satisfaction among patients and nurses alike. According to current research, these include the following:

Standardizing onboarding processes: Pilot programs have found success, and better nurse retention rates, when onboarding processes are standardized and streamlined. Equipped with all the right information and clear expectations, nurses can often start their jobs on a better note, feeling empowered rather than lost or confused.

Establishing clear communication: Open lines of communication between nurses, supervisors, administrators, and other providers are crucial to avoiding workplace stress and conflict. Some nurses say they feel frustrated because they don’t know who to go to with questions or concerns, which can leave them feeling isolated. Establishing clear avenues for feedback and discussion can help alleviate those feelings and improve team retention.

Strategizing to alter work conditions: Working long hours is one of the primary causes of nurse burnout. Administrators, nursing leaders, and providers could collaborate to ensure that nurses are working reasonable hours without sacrificing patient-centered care or their own emotional and physical health. Leaders could also promote and prioritize self-care among nurses to prevent burnout.

Providing more job incentives: As the backbone of the health care industry, nurses deserve to have their value acknowledged and rewarded. Increasing incentives for relocation, loyalty, and consistency can help nurses maintain a healthy work-life balance and potentially decrease turnover rates as well. These incentives could include vacation time, bonuses, promotions, and raises, among others.

Decreasing paperwork burden: Because of documentation requirements, some nurses feel they spend more time completing paperwork than working with patients. Adjusting paperwork requirements with innovative, dynamic technology and better policies could allow nurses to do what’s most important with more care, compassion, and energy: engaging directly with patients.

Increasing autonomy: Many nurses say they wish they were treated with more respect and given more autonomy at their jobs. Increasing the opportunity for added responsibilities and promotions into leadership roles could help many nurses feel more momentum in and excitement about their careers.

How a Master of Science in Nursing Program Could Boost Nurse Retention

The current research indicates that one of the most important factors in addressing the nursing shortage is to empower nurses and equip leaders with greater autonomy. This would help to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction, in addition to improving nurses’ on-the-job experiences. A Master of Science in Nursing such as the Regis College online program allows nurses to grow into leadership roles by specializing in a nurse practitioner area, which would prepare them to make more direct decisions over the course of patients’ care.

Regis College’s online MSN also helps students develop crucial skills that can allow them to stand out among their peers and potentially take on added responsibility as a nurse educator or leader. These include team management capabilities, cultural competency and awareness of diversity, strong communication skills, the ability to provide effective feedback and guidance, and a greater capacity for empathy and patience.

Learn More About Increasing Nurse Retention

If you’re a nurse eager to address the current nurse retention rates and curb the industry shortage, consider pursuing a graduate degree or specialized training to help advance your career and improve the field.

The online Master of Science in Nursing program at Regis College allows students to specialize in one of five different nurse practitioner fields. Your graduate degree could potentially open the door to greater autonomy in your career and the opportunity to train other nurses to improve patient outcomes.

Recommended Readings:
Future of Nursing: Trends in a Demanding Industry
A Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner
Climbing to the Top: A Look at Nurse Levels

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage
National Institute For Health Research, Association Of 12 H Shifts And Nurses’ Job Satisfaction, Burnout And Intention To Leave
International Nursing Review, “Effects of Nurse Work Environment on Job Dissatisfaction, Burnout, Intention to Leave
Health Leaders, “Top 5 Nurse Leadership Issues for 2019”
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing
Sage Open Nursing, “Reducing Annual Hospital and Registered Nurse Staff Turnover—A 10-Element Onboarding Program Intervention”
StatPearls Publishing, “Nursing Shortage”