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Top 5 Workforce Focuses from AONL 2024

Analysis  |  By G Hatfield  
   April 15, 2024

The nurse leaders at AONL looked to the future to solve the current workforce issues.

The 2024 AONL Conference wrapped up last week in New Orleans after three days of brainstorming, collaboration, leadership discussion, and heavy rain.  

There were many common themes throughout the sessions and the keynotes, but as expected, workforce development was front and center. Turnover rates are high among frontline nurses and in leadership positions, and even though predictions are positive, the current nursing shortage is going strong.  

The nurse leaders in attendance offered many creative and innovative solutions for the different prongs of the workforce crisis. Here are the top five subjects they focused on.  

5. Workplace violence prevention

 Workplace violence incidents are rising, and even though many physical safety measures have and are still being taken by health systems, there seems to be little to no improvement.  

This is due to the wrong approach, according to Mary Beth Kingston, chief nursing officer at Advocate Health. In a conference session, Kingston suggested that taking a more patient-centered approach to workplace violence is the missing piece of the puzzle.  

Kingston recommended getting to the bottom of why incidents occur, by meeting patients where they are at, and trying to understand what might be going on in their life to cause certain behaviors. De-escalation training should be meaningful and involve some kind of "customer service" training to help nurses speak to patients, families, and visitors in stressful situations.  

4. Addressing burnout   

Burnout was a part of almost every conversation at AONL this year. Burnout is one of the biggest reasons for turnover rates for both frontline nurses and nurse leaders. Nurses are expected to do too many extraneous tasks that take away from the time they have to spend with patients, and many of the CNOs and nurse leaders at AONL emphasized the need to remove those tasks from daily workflows.  

In another conference session, Linda Alderson, chief nurse executive at Tacoma General and Allenmore Hospitals, and Jennifer Graham, chief nurse executive at MultiCare Health System, spoke about how they are leveraging technology to lessen the workload for nurses.  

Graham spoke about how they use a robot called Moxi, who currently works as a delivery robot in the hospital. Moxi is responsible for running supplies and smaller lab specimens to and from locations to assist the nurses on the floor. So far, Graham said the results have been successful in diverting the task of supply delivery away from nurses.  

3. Career development

Creating career development opportunities for nurses who want to become leaders in their space was also a hot button topic. In the same session, Kingston gave advice about personal career accelerators that nurses should take into consideration.  

Kingston recommended that nurses who want to become leaders engage in professional organizations, and partaking in the opportunities offered by those groups. They should also become comfortable with the idea of taking calculated career risks, and recognize that they have skills that are transferable.  

2. Mentorship  

Along the same lines, there was a general consensus at the conference that the gap between new graduate nurses and tenured nurses is concerning, to say the least. The idea of mentorship programs is not a new one, but it is becoming more necessary in the current state of the industry.  

Erin Kirk, director of patient care services at Norton Children's, discussed in a session how the health system has a mentorship program where nurses can become part of a learning cohort through a nomination process.  

In the hybrid learning program, they learn skills such as interprofessional communication and how to problem solve using critical thinking. According to Kirk, 59% of participants have gone on to expand their roles or involvement with the health system since completing the program, which Kirk deems a success.  

1. Virtual nursing  

To no one's surprise, virtual nursing was the number one trend at AONL in 2024. Not only was the topic the subject of many of the sessions, but it was the main theme in the exhibit hall as well. It is crystal clear that the future of the nursing industry is virtual, and that nurse leaders need to be ready for the implications on workflows and patient care.  

Along with Moxi, Graham and Alderson shared their findings from the new nursing care model they are currently testing. The care model involves a unit made up of an RN, an LPN, a virtual nurse, a robot, and a CNA. The model separates the duties of the virtual nurse and the RN and LPN, and outlines the places where they cross over each other.  

According to Graham and Alderson, the virtual nurse is in charge of admissions, discharges, dual nurse signoffs, and mentoring and clinical support. The bedside RN and LPN are responsible for physical assessment, patient safety, medication administration, procedures, and other hands-on care. Things like patient rounding, patient education, care plan updates, pain reassessment, interdisciplinary rounding, and connecting with patients and families are all integrated duties that both parties are responsible for.  

Graham and Alderson have seen success with this model, and while it still has a long way to go, this is a good example of how CNOs and other nurse leaders can incorporate virtual nursing into their hospitals.  

G Hatfield is the nursing editor for HealthLeaders.


Virtual nursing was the number one trend at AONL 2024, to no one's surprise.  

Mentorship and career development were also highly spoken about, specifically in terms of leadership development in the next generation of nurses.  

Workplace violence and burnout are also key issues that CNOs need to tackle in order to maintain and grow the workforce.

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