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Nurse Educators Plot Retention Strategies

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   July 19, 2011

Until the economy imploded a few years ago, every other article on the profession of nursing revolved around the nurse shortage. It was so omnipresent that we became numb to it. Then the economy went south, nurses couldn’t afford to retire or needed to pick up extra shifts to make ends meet, and suddenly it was “what shortage?

Now, as we knew it would, signs are appearing that the shortage is about to rear its ugly head again. Perhaps now we will face the problem with fresh insight and conviction. At the least, nurse retention is about to become a business imperative again.

I just got back from the annual convention of the National Nursing Staff Development Organization in Chicago and talk of retention was everywhere. Nursing professional development specialists are on the front lines of retention and professional development efforts and they know they have to plan ahead.

It is energizing to hear nursing leaders talk about shared experiences and challenges. This year’s NNSDO conference featured more pep and vigor than any I’ve attended in the last few years of the economic downturn.

This year, the focus was back on nurse retention. Staff development specialists know that a good way to retain nurses—and ensure a competent nursing staff providing quality care —is to offer professional development opportunities. They were also trying to figure out how to implement the recommendations from the IOM’s Future of Nursing report, such as improving the transition experience for new graduate nurses through offering nurse residency programs.

In cost-conscious times, every department must pay attention to the bottom line, which is hard to quantify with something as nebulous as professional development. It may be easy to check off a competency assessment that a nurse can operate an IV pump correctly, but harder to quantify the return on investment provided by in-depth education and development, which is so vital to retention and patient care.

But this is a key skill staff development departments must work on when every department fights for scarce dollars. So, attendees discussed maximizing return on investment of educational, training, and professional development offerings and how to measure outcomes.

Doing so will require the use of evidence to evaluate and improve practice and tie education departments to patient outcomes, as well as finding ways to improve efficiency through new technology.

Jobeth Pilcher, RN-BC, EdD, presented her research on nurses’ preferences for teaching methods and new technology in education. Pilcher cautioned that incorporating technology for its own sake is a waste of time. For example, Twitter is a great medium for keeping in touch with people, but rushing to provide education via Twitter without an obvious strategy is a waste of time. Starting a blog for the CNO can be a great way to communicate and engage with nurses, but not if the CNO has nothing to say.

Useful technology is easy to use, convenient, and has a tangible benefit. Nurses say they prefer to receive education through traditional lecture format, which beat modern options such as videos or podcasts. The top three most popular nurse learning methods are:

  1. Lectures
  2. Paper and pen self-study
  3. Online learning

Learners want interaction with their lectures—indeed any education and training—rather than dry lectures. Putting a class online doesn’t make dry content any more thrilling, so simply going online with education isn’t effective unless the class is redesigned to fit the new format. Savvy staff development specialists will be paying much more attention to collecting such evidence of effectiveness as they prepare for the growing need to fight for nurses.

Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at

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