Strategies for reducing nurse turnover

Nurse Leader Insider, September 24, 2015

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Lena J. Weiner, for HealthLeaders Media , September 21, 2015

A healthcare economist's prescription for retaining RNs includes creating mentorship positions for older nurses and investing in employee development programs.

High turnover is undesirable in any department, but the pain can be especially when nurses leave. It's the nurse at the bedside that the patient remembers, and nurses often bring with them decades of versatile experience and wisdom that follow them out the door when they depart.

For decades, hospital leadership could get away with allowing their organizations to be less-than-perfect work environments for nurses, says Peter McMenamin, PhD, senior policy fellow and healthcare economist with the American Nurses Association in Silver Spring, MD—but that's about to change.

"You used to see ads [for nursing positions] that said 'new graduates need not apply.' You don't see them as often anymore," says McMenamin. This is because 40% of practicing nurses are over the age of 55, with many reaching retirement age. Many of these nurses have been delaying retirement, but they can't hold off on retiring forever.

While the market seems to be in the process of correcting itself with more students graduating from nursing programs annually over the last few years, it will take time for those nurses to come up to speed and gain experience. In the meantime, there is a nurse shortage that will get worse before it gets better, and hospitals need to try hard to retain good nurses.

McMenamin has an unusual prescription for doing this.

"Most hospitals retain money every quarter. That money is put into a reserve, and is often spent on acquisitions or building projects. I think a good idea is to consider setting up a human capital reserve," he says.

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