The role of nurses has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Their responsibilities now include very intense home patient care, complex in-patient situations, leadership roles on committees, and demands to mentor the less experienced members of their team.
To address this shift and to retain their nursing staff, employers must offer a variety of benefits - chief among them is access to continuing education. The most direct way to do this is through offering a competitive tuition reimbursement program to those seeking additional degrees.
Here are three ways that your nurses’ pursuit of additional degrees can positively affect your organization:
1. Support patient care. Research shows that nurses with additional education correlate with higher quality patient care. With more education, they are able to anticipate and address a larger variety of health needs. And since effective patient care is the main priority of any institution, the education levels of its staff should be prioritized.
Meanwhile, per the ANA’s “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation” campaign, there is a growing understanding that nurses may not be able to effectively provide care for someone else if their own well-being isn’t being addressed. Hospitals are creating infrastructure to address this, whether it’s providing meditation or yoga rooms, through messaging, or by making sure their staff has all the tools they need to expand their careers.
Continuing education is a part of this holistic approach to staff support. At Capella University, we know this piece is very important so we’ve done research with Gallup on well-being outcomes of our alumni who were eligible for cost savings on their degree through a partnership we have with their healthcare employer. We found these Capella graduates were more likely than nontraditional college graduates nationally to be thriving in each element of well-being as defined by Gallup. So one can see that providing education benefits can contribute to overall well-being and ultimately contribute to overall better patient care for their institution
2. Educational diversity builds stronger teams and leaders. When a team is composed of professionals with different levels of education and experience, everyone on the team benefits. Nurses who are further along in their careers can serve as role models to less experienced staff members and pass along their acquired knowledge. This can be highly rewarding for these mentors in terms of job satisfaction, and it also helps them maintain and test their knowledge base. It may also inspire the rest of the team to pursue more education as less experienced members see firsthand its advantages. Providing education benefits allows for this educational diversity and results in stronger teams.
These benefits also help nurses own and thrive in their roles as leaders. Nursing is a highly trusted profession, and for good reason: nurses supervise patient safety and are the main point of contact for family members whose loved one is receiving care. In order for your nursing staff to maintain this trust, it’s important to invest in their leadership development.
Most new nurses don’t immediately grasp that by virtue of their profession’s stature, they are expected to be leaders. This will occur to them over time, as they make positive changes in others’ lives, participate in initiatives, serve on committees, and are a part of research projects. Part of their growth as leaders relies on their pursuit of higher degrees because with more education, they become qualified for increased responsibilities.
3. Support higher employee retention. Every employee wants to feel valued and supported in their field. The same is true for nurses. Because turnover in nursing staff can be widespread, it is necessary that hospitals and facilities use tuition reimbursement programs as a motivator for retention. These benefits help a nurse feel supported by their institution and also create career momentum. A recent case study on Cigna found that the insurer’s employee education reimbursement program generated 129 percent ROI in the form of avoided talent management costs from 2012 to 2014. Participants had more than an eight percent higher retention rate than non-participants, and they were promoted ten percent more often than non-participants.
Additional education helps nurses grow in their roles at their institution, which leads to more job satisfaction and being more invested in the work they do. Employers should provide their nurses with a competitive tuition reimbursement program, as part of the benefits offered, in order to help them obtain additional degrees. This accommodation proves valuable to both the nurse and employer alike.
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Adele Webb, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN, Assistant Dean, External Relations & Partnerships, School of Nursing and Health Sciences, Capella University.