Here's an idea: Ask nurses how your hospital can do better

When it comes to innovation, every hospital has nurses who know the right thing to do.

The following content is sponsored by Capella University.

As they operate on the front lines of hospitals and health systems, nurses are poised to create innovative solutions to improve patient outcomes and significantly reduce costs. However, too often nurses' ideas are not championed in national discussions on innovation and the improvement of healthcare.

With both in-the-trenches experience and an educator's perspective, Patrick Robinson, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of Capella University's School of Nursing and Health Sciences, is an active and guiding voice on how hospital leadership and administration can inspire and support its nurses.

Here, Dr. Robinson discusses the importance of fostering empowerment and creativity among a nursing staff — and how leaders can do just that.

Question: What is Capella doing to help foster innovation in nursing?

Dr. Robinson: We believe strongly in competency-based education. Whether in nursing, administration, public health or any of our offerings, we clearly define what it is the graduate needs to be doing in the professional work place and we design authentic assessments around that to measure their performance on a standard scale. This enables us to report on the attainment level of specific competencies.

Everything we do in our degree programs is carefully aligned to the standards of the respective profession. Beyond this, we are thoroughly engaged with high-performing healthcare employers. We reach out to them and ask, "What are you looking for in potential graduate prepared nurses or those seeking master's degrees or doctorates in healthcare administration? What are the skills they need to have?" We then tailor our offering around those answers to stay responsive and prepared for the challenges put forth not only by the current market, but by the emerging market.

Q: What is the benefit of administrators and executives including nurses' voices in decision-making?

PR: Nurses are the absolute largest number of healthcare workers in the workforce. Right now we have approximately 2.8 million practicing nurses, more than 62 percent of whom are in the hospital setting. Not only do nurses have the unique front line view of patient care, but they are highly educated and their ideas and opinions must be recognized as drivers of safety and quality in hospitals.

Now that value-based reimbursements have become the norm, not recognizing nurses as an integral part of that decision-making process is going to be challenging. People are admitted to hospitals for one reason and one reason only — they require 24-hour-a-day nursing care. Who is keeping those patients safe and driving their outcomes? Who has the most face time with them and the biggest influence over their satisfaction scores? Nurses are uniquely positioned to make decisions that radically affect the solvency of a hospital.

Q: What changes need to take place for nurses to be heard?

PR: There has to be recognition that far more nurses need to rise into the C-suite. It's not acceptable to me, when you look around the country, that C-suites are primarily men when the nursing population is close to 92 percent women. Why would it ever be acceptable for a hospital board not to have nurses on it?

In 2014, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Nursing and the American Nurses Foundation, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, launched a campaign aimed at putting 10,000 additional nurses on boards of hospitals and healthcare organizations by 2020. This is really where we can make an impact: Having nurses' voices heard at the table where strategy is defined.

The Magnet designation, granted by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, is also a beneficial strategy. The designation is recognized for attracting high-quality nurses and resulting in better outcomes because it focuses on structural empowerment for nurses.

Q: How can nurses encourage one another to feel more empowered?

PR: The message needs to be: Claim your voice and agency. Nurses do not always exercise their full power or understand how important they are to an organization, but it is the professional and ethical obligation of all practicing nurses to step forward with their ideas. Patients' lives and quality of care depend on that. So any kind of grassroots effort that nurses can foster within their units to encourage that makes a difference, because there is power in numbers and a single nurse never has to feel like he or she is acting alone. There is no hospital that doesn't have like-minded nurses who don't know the right thing to do, and leadership or management can help with that process by making sure they select transformational nursing leaders.

Q: What can leadership do to encourage nurses to share their ideas more?

PR: Simply that. There should be direct and firm messaging that the thoughts, ideas and solutions to some of the endemic and emerging problems in patient care, quality and safety come from those who are most knowledgeable about them: Those on the front lines with patients.

Making that explicit is key. Make sure there are opportunities, such as focus groups or town hall meetings, for ideas to be exchanged. Additionally, put data in the hands of nurses and give them the opportunity to see not only the individual patients they work with, but the hospital or health system as a whole in a manageable way. That will enable nurses to offer their insights. Give nurses that opportunity and develop them beyond their degrees to be evidence-based decision-makers by investing in continuing education to drive creativity and innovation.

Learn more about Capella University's Nursing Track 80/20 here.

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