Mayo's CNO on the likelihood of nurses' post-pandemic return

Ryannon Frederick, MSN, RN, is chief nursing officer at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. In an email to Becker's in October, she shared how the health system is navigating staffing challenges, and what she thinks the nursing landscape will look like following the pandemic.

Question: Many nurses not ready to retire have left healthcare due to the pressures and challenges the pandemic has brought. Do you think that they will be returning to the industry once things return to normal — whatever that new normal may look like?

Ryannon Frederick: There is no argument that the past year or two has been challenging for those working in healthcare. The pandemic has made the work environment exponentially more difficult. That coupled with daunting challenges in personal lives have required nurses to make tough decisions to find balance.

While there are challenges, it is not hopeless. Over the last 18 months we have seen many nurses return to practice after retirement, proud and privileged to help during times of crisis.  Retired nurses volunteered to help with vaccines, testing, infusions and other areas that were hit hard during the COVID surges. Additionally, we are hearing from our academic partners that the enrollment for nursing schools is increasing. We are excited to help nurture future nurses and have increased capacity to assist in their training.

I do believe that nurses will return as we find a new normal. This will be expedited as organizations learn how to balance meeting their professional and personal needs without compromising on the care of our patients. One of the most important lessons learned from the pandemic was that healthcare organizations need to be judicious in understanding the needs of the nursing workforce. We will continue to be flexible and adaptable and ready to take them back as soon as they are able to return.

Nurses are trusted experts who provide incredible patient care. The profession is a calling, a passion, and it is incredibly important that we have the nursing workforce that prioritizes caring for themselves to be fully present for the patients who need them. 

Q: How is Mayo navigating nurse staffing challenges? 

RF:  Mayo Clinic has not been immune to the challenges affecting health care. We have worked to recruit top talent to ease the pressure of high hospital census. We have an extremely diverse group of professional nurses working in our organization. Some are fresh out of nursing school, with their last year of school and first year of practice, managing in a global pandemic. Others have been in the field longer than I have and are seeing things that they've never experienced in their long careers. Regardless of our backgrounds, we all have days when it feels overwhelming. 

While we can't make all the stressors go away, we're working hard to do what we can under less-than-ideal circumstances. Some examples includesignificant hiring and onboarding of new nursing staff;revising recruitment strategies; offering flexibility in work environment and options, including virtual roles as much as    possible; and refined processes and procedures to ease burden. 

We have also implemented a number of programs across the Mayo Clinic enterprise to address staffing challenges that are similar to what many other organizations across the country are experiencing. 

We have highly skilled, agile and adaptable employees and a strong culture of teamwork. Our nurses support each other, all while continuing to provide innovative patient care. 

Q: What change(s) in nursing have been the most significant or surprising to you since the beginning of your career?

RF: I believe the most significant change in nursing has been education. Training has evolved greatly, with focused specialization and additional technology to address needs that previously could not be completed. Education has become much more accessible. This, coupled with a professional practice environment where nurses are encouraged to grow and develop, has dramatically changed the trajectory of the nursing workforce. Many nurses enter the profession with an expectation to return to school and advance their careers. They are making focused, deliberate choices that will provide the path to achieve their academic and professional objectives.  

Q: What tips do you have for those looking to become chief nursing officers?

RF: Be open to the possibilities of where your career may take you. Don't be too quick to have it all figured out, as some of the best opportunities are ones you never anticipated.

Nurses are leaders for healthcare and beyond.  Don't come to the table with a singular focus or objective. Listen, contribute and trust the value that you bring to the comprehensive picture.  

Don't focus too much on today. Focus on where we need to be in five years and executing the plan that it will take to get there.

Embrace and model adaptability. Change isn't going away, and nurses are the ideal professionals to develop solutions needed to create the future. 

Q: What are your top three priorities as CNO over the next year?

RF: Transform the nursing practice leveraging artificial intelligence; renovate and innovate the nursing model of care delivery for inpatient acute care; and identify and implement a plan to develop the skills, capabilities and expertise needed in the nursing workforce to successfully navigate the challenging healthcare landscape for the next five years.

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