Skip to main content

Contributed Content: Boosting Nurse Retention in Younger Generations

By Cheryl Reinking  
   April 12, 2024

Here's how one health system lowered their turnover rates, according to their CNO.

Editors note: Cheryl Reinking, DNP, RN, is the chief nursing officer at El Camino Health and has been with El Camino Health for 35 years. She has served in numerous positions in her career including clinical nurse, case manager, clinical manager, nursing director and vice chief of clinical operations before becoming the enterprise Chief Nursing Officer in 2013. 

During the past four years, high rates of burnout, heavier workloads and decreased support at work, among other issues, have contributed to a historic, nationwide shortage of health care workers across the country, especially among nursing professionals. Many of these nurses are leaving their current positions or the practice altogether, and health systems are searching for ways to better retain their nursing staff, while also bridging the gap in patient care affected by this shortage.

As a new generation enters the workforce, Gen Z nurses are not only facing these shortages, but also navigating a health care landscape that is evolving more than ever before. In the midst of these changes, El Camino Health, a four-time Magnet-certified health system, is building upon the longstanding success we’ve accomplished with our nursing workforce, by implementing new structures and processes that put our nursing staff first. And, we’ve found that these new strategies are already showing heightened retention rates among Gen Z nurses at our organization.

El Camino Health’s low turnover rate of eight percent for all nurses is far lower than the national rate of 22.5 percent, due to the retention efforts of these streamlined structures and processes, which include improved workflow and more flexible scheduling. These are tactics that we have found appeal to nurses across the board. We’ve also honed in on professional development opportunities, especially for newly graduated nurses, while examining what differentiates Gen Z nurses from their colleagues in the profession.

Growth and advancement opportunities

What sets Gen Z apart from other generations is their desire to forge a clear path forward in realizing their career goals, with dedicated milestones to help them achieve those goals. Professional development opportunities are stepping stones along that path to help nurses create career advancement plans and stay motivated along the way.

Among the career advancement opportunities that we have found to be extremely important to retention is our prestigious one-year nurse residency program. This fully ANCC accredited with distinction training program gives newly graduated nurses the opportunity to further their career goals in various specialties like labor and delivery, emergency and oncology. This program enjoys a 92% retention rate. By combining clinical hours, classes, evidence-based projects and dedicated training support, our nurses can efficiently boost their career trajectory, something we’ve found is important to Gen Z nurses and their desire to learn and grow in the practice.

In addition, the resident program perfectly positions these nurses to enter one of the transitions of specialty programs allowing nurses to change specialties through a rigorous program designed to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to care for different patient populations such as critical care, cardiac catheterization, and neonatal intensive care.

Creating space for nurses to be heard and listened to in the workplace

Nurses, but especially Gen Z nurses, are more likely to stay within a health system if they feel they are being heard, respected and have the ability to make a difference for patients through their own ideas. It’s important to provide space for nurses to give valuable input and insight on organizational policies and patient care, in order to improve and build upon existing structures to better serve patients. We have a mature professional governance and shared decision-making structure. Nursing partnership councils exist on all units which are led by direct care nurses. These councils allow nurses to solve problems for patients as well as to create a nursing practice environment that is optimal.

A big reason for our 92 percent retention rate can also be attributed to the mentoring relationships we’ve facilitated between new and seasoned nurses. In these partnerships, nurses with varying levels of experience work together to identify methods of improving current processes and outcomes for patients. We’ve found that these professional development strategies help elevate the voices of our nurses and encourage their autonomy in the practice to continue bringing new ideas forward.

Making work-life balance a priority

As a whole, health care workers are facing a mental health crisis, with nearly half of all health care workers reporting burnout in 2022, and 41 percent saying they were likely to look for a new job. As a health system, prioritizing work-life balance for our employees, especially our nurses, is critical to helping them avoid burnout and other mental health issues that can arise in such a demanding profession.

Solutions we have implemented that have a positive effect on our nursing workforce, and also limit burnout, include creative and more flexible scheduling options, avoiding scheduling double shifts and the Save Our Staff (SOS) program. For example, the SOS program allows nurses struggling with situations like patient loss to contact a peer who can listen and provide psychological support in the moment. These measures not only help us prioritize work-life balance for our nursing staff, but also help us mitigate the burnout so many health care workers are currently experiencing.

Ultimately, offering growth and advancement opportunities, making work-life balance a priority and creating space for nurses to be heard and listened to in the workplace are some of the most important ways organizations can work to retain Gen Z nurses amidst the ongoing nationwide nursing shortage. And as health care systems usher in a new generation of nurses, designing strategies that are specifically tailored to their success can not only boost the profession as a whole, but improve the lives and outcomes of the patients we serve.

Editor's note: Care to share your view? HealthLeaders accepts original thought leadership articles from healthcare industry leaders in active executive roles at payer and provider organizations. These may include case studies, research, and guest editorials. We neither accept payment nor offer compensation for contributed content. Send questions and submissions to content director Amanda Norris at


El Camino Health has lowered turnover rates by  improving workflows and offering flexible scheduling. 

The health system has invested in the professional development of Gen Z nurses. 

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.