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Half-day Haven Hands Nurses Tools for Good Mental Health

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   March 14, 2022

Caring for the Nurse Retreat's average satisfaction score is 4.89 on a 5-point scale and nurses report significant improvements in self-care and stress management, chief nursing officer says.

A half-day retreat that takes frontline nurses off the floor of UAMS Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and to a serene riverside setting to learn about the importance of self-care seems to be working, says the chief nursing officer (CNO) who engineered it all.

"Skeptical people go in saying, 'I don't know about this,' and they come out thanking us," says Trenda Ray, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, the Little Rock, Arkansas, health system's CNO and associate vice chancellor for patient care services.

The Caring for the Nurse Retreat originated from a survey nearly three years ago—before the COVID-19 pandemic—by a UAMS researcher who was focused on physician wellness and burnout. Inexplicably, he included nurses in the survey. The results were eye-opening.

"They were so surprised in that RNs led the way in burnout," Ray says. "Nurses surpassed residents, students, and attending physicians and that became the signal for us that we needed to do something."

At a conference she was attending, Ray heard another organization speak about nurse retreats, and she took the idea back to UAMS with her.

"In October 2019, pre-pandemic, we had our first Caring for the Nurse Retreat and we modeled it based on what I had heard from another organization, but modified it a bit to fit our needs," she says.

Open to all frontline RNs, advanced practice RNs, and licensed practical nurses (LPN), the monthly half-day retreat is held off-site in a large, windowed conference room at the Department of Arkansas Heritage,  which sits on the Arkansas River.

The hospital system's director of wellness and Ray's assistant facilitate each session, which is limited to 12­–14 participants.

"Each session, I try to do the welcome. If I can't do it in person, they play a video where I explain the premise behind the retreat and why it's so important to us that we want healthy nurses not just at work, but we want our healthy nurses back at home with their families," she says.

Yoga is a large part of the retreat, so they start the day talking about the importance of movement, followed by a yoga session focused on mindfulness and gratitude, she says.

A healthy cooking demonstration from a UAMS culinary medicine faculty member shows the nurses healthy, easy foods they can cook for their families and bring for lunch. During a healthy lunch, participants also learn about journaling and how it can be an effective tool in managing mental health.

Evaluations from retreat attendees have consistently ranked high, Ray says.

"We have had a total of 18 retreats so far over the past year with a total of 190 participants. The average satisfaction score is 4.89 on a 5-point scale and, post-retreat, nurses reported significant improvements in self-care—nutrition, physical activity—and in management of stress," she says.

Feedback from nurses includes such statements as:

  • "Thank you for valuing us and our time [Nurses are paid for the four hours they spend in the retreat]."
  • "Thank you for investing in our wellness and giving us tools to use in everyday life."
  • "This was much needed, especially after the past year in the pandemic. I have become so focused on work and school that I've lost focus on what matters."

"And those are a few of the comments from just one session," Ray says.

'Focused on wellness'

The nurse retreats are sponsored by the Chancellor's Circle, the annual giving society for the entire UAMS system, providing funds to support key mission areas in healthcare education, research, and patient care.

"I didn't know how to get the financial backing and when the Chancellor Circle awards came through, we are so fortunate that our chancellor is focused on the wellness of our nurses and of our campus," she says.

Additionally, UAMS's foundation office has made the retreats part of its philanthropy efforts, and the Caring for the Nurse Retreat received more than $10,000 in donations in just a few weeks.

"Everyone has recognized this as something very special," Ray says.

Of the health system's roughly 2,000 nurses, nearly 200 have attended the retreat, which is why Ray plans to expand it to twice a month. And the retreat program that started out as a pilot is now being designed for other staff members across the medical center campus, she says.

How to get started

Nurse leaders interested in starting a nursing retreat at their hospital should first review what resources are available within their institution, Ray says.

"One of our nursing leaders was a yoga instructor and we started with her," Ray says. "We're lucky that we have a wellness program here and someone who teaches mindfulness."

The retreat location at the Department of Arkansas Heritage is free because both are state institutions.

"The cost of this is low. We bought yoga mats and we buy food every time and a few other supplies here and there, but the cost is so low considering the benefit that we're seeing," Ray says. "I would suggest they look internally, that they talk to one another and ask who in their organization are experts around mindfulness or nutrition, and then find ways to partner."

“We want healthy nurses not just at work, but we want our healthy nurses back at home with their families.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


Partnering with experts in their own organization is an effective way for nurse leaders to provide good mental health practices to nurses.

Yoga is a large part of the retreat, so they start the day talking about the importance of movement.

A healthy cooking demonstration from a culinary medicine faculty member shows healthy, easy foods nurses can cook for their families and bring for lunch.

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