A Culture of Learning: Why Today’s Nurses Deserve the Best Onboarding and Education Available

By Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN, chief Nurse, Health Learning, Research and Practice, Wolters Kluwer.

Anne Dabrow Woods

Have you thanked a nurse today? Or any day, for that matter?

If not, you now have an entire week to make up for lost time. National Nurses Week 2019 runs May 6 through 12 and celebrates the innumerable contributions nurses make each day. This year’s theme is “4 Million Reasons to Celebrate,” pointing to the 4 million registered nurses licensed in the United States and the vast contributions they bring to care delivery.

Healthcare may be an ever-evolving industry, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the integral role played by nurses. In fact, their skill set is more in-demand than ever before, especially as today’s healthcare organizations navigate the evolving value-based care landscape. For example, nurses must constantly absorb new information to keep up with rapidly-changing evidence in practice while simultaneously honing their critical thinking skills to stay current in a shifting healthcare model.

The reality is that the role of nurses is changing dramatically as healthcare organizations see increased demand for services and higher-acuity patients, many with more comorbidities than ever before. Today’s nurses are critical members of the multi-disciplinary care team. They need to be the collaborators and leaders, giving a voice not only to their patients but to other nurses and caregivers as well. This is a profession that needs to produce leaders with the savvy and acumen to feel as comfortable inside a boardroom as they do at a bedside.

Simply put, knowledge is power when it comes to producing the best possible patient outcomes. Forward-thinking healthcare organizations understand this dynamic and are designing workplaces that optimize and support a culture of learning that elevates nursing skills to align with healthcare initiatives related to chronic disease management and population health.

These strategies not only support nurses as they care for patients in today’s fast-paced healthcare environments, but they help clinical leaders address growing staffing challenges amid critical professional shortages. For example, turnover rates in 2017 shot up to nearly 17 percent as the industry faces growing challenges related to burnout and dissatisfaction. Hospitals pay dearly when nursing turnover is at its highest, and it isn’t only the quality of care that suffers. According to one survey, the average cost for the turnover of a bedside RN is between approximately $40,000 and $60,000. Each percent change in nursing turnover, the survey says, will either cost or save the average hospital more than $373,000.

Nurses who feel well-equipped and supported in their professional trajectory are much more likely to find satisfaction in their work. Consequently, healthcare organizations must provide that support from the outset—addressing education gaps during onboarding while continuing to educate new nurses on how to deliver the highest quality of care. It’s a difficult balance considering nurses are dealing with a growing number of patients and a plethora of complex diseases.

In order to stem this tide, hospitals will need to evolve their approach to education. Notably, research suggests that the quality of orientation and onboarding matters when it comes to improving nurse retention rates. For example, a lengthy onboarding process – some programs run as long as eight weeks – proved unpopular with new hires, who felt overwhelmed by the information and would skip over material they felt was irrelevant in order to get through the experience faster. Consequently, many nurses felt unprepared when it was their turn to start working in the field.

The onboarding process needs to be tighter and more efficient while still equipping new hires with everything they need to feel confident in their roles. Hospitals should be shaping orientation around the specific population their nurses will work with most often. This method will make the onboarding process go by quicker while teaching nurses the skills they need to know. In addition, interactive case studies and virtual simulation techniques supported by a strong preceptor program can improve a new nurse’s ability to apply new knowledge.  Healthcare systems need to provide continuing education to their experienced nursing staff to ensure the nurses are utilizing the latest and best available evidence in the care they are delivering.  Nurses that work in organizations where the organization invests in the nurses’ success and professional practice tend to stay at that location.

Being a nurse is hard work. Nurses must constantly strive to understand the current trends in healthcare as well as in their profession and evolve to meet the needs at the same pace that healthcare changes.

Nurses are integral to patients receiving the best care possible, whether it’s physical, spiritual or emotional. Nurses are there for their patients and their patients’ families at some of the most painful and challenging moments of their lives and have devoted themselves to the well-being of others. So, when we are celebrating the four million nurses registered in the United States during National Nurses’ Week, remember to say, “thank you” to a nurse.” It will not only make the nurse feel appreciated, but it might even make you feel a little better too.

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