'Gone are the days when organizations can just offer bonuses': How to competitively recruit, retain nurses

As the nation grapples with a nurse shortage heightened by the pandemic, healthcare organizations are struggling to recruit and retain nurses.

Becker's talked about nursing trends and strategies with Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, a practicing acute care and critical care nurse practitioner at Yardley, Pa.-based Penn Medicine, and the chief nurse of Philadelphia-based Wolters Kluwer, Health, Learning, Research and Practice business. Dr. Woods is also the author of the ebook, Transforming the Nursing Workforce in the New Paradigm of Care.

Below are some important takeaways all leaders should know.

Retention, turnover rates amid the pandemic 

Between 17.5 percent and 30 percent of new graduate nurses leave their first job within the first year, and 33.5 percent to 57 percent of new graduate nurses leave within the first two to three years, Dr. Woods said. And those are pre-pandemic figures.

A lot of nurses leaving the profession now didn't intend to leave for another five to 10 years, according to Dr. Woods. Some have realized pandemic care isn't the type of care they wanted to deliver, while others have left because they didn't feel adequately supported by their organizations. 

Nurses usually leave organizations after just a few years because they didn't get an adequate orientation program, Dr. Woods said, recommending institutions partner with academic centers for nurse extern programs. The programs focus on nursing as a career and provide further practice settings. Nurses who go through extern programs are more likely to stay at the institution where they have those relationships, which is why an increasing number of healthcare organizations are partnering with academic institutions.

Retention strategies

Conversations around retention need to focus on how organizations will make nurses feel valued, Dr. Woods said. Systems need to provide a safe environment with adequate staffing that is skilled for the level of care and training required.

To keep nurse talent within an organization, Dr. Woods encourages leaders to offer programs that promote autonomy so nurses can practice their full autonomy. Flexible staffing hours are a must — not everyone can work 12 hour shifts. Leaders should reexamine sick leave policies and employee assistance programs, and develop easier access to both. Hospitals are great at talking about patient well-being, but also need to focus on workforce well-being, Dr. Woods said. Organizations must promote a healthy work/life integration for each staff member. 

Seven recruitment strategies organizations can use to appeal to nurses 

  1. Systems should demonstrate a belief in workforce well-being. This will attract more talent because staff will know work-life integration is supported.
  2. Flexible staffing policies must be in place.
  3. Professional autonomy must be a key component of the nursing workforce.
  4. Adequate training for new nurses and nurses already with the system is necessary, including cross-training so nurses can switch specialties. 
  5. Continuing professional development activities and opportunities should be provided.
  6. System must be known as an advocate for safety of patients and workforce. 
  7. On paper, monetary bonuses look great. However, if systems have a reputation that they don't support nurse well-being, people aren't going to come. Or the people who do come aren't the nurses organizations want — they come for the money, but aren't fully engaged in the profession. Gone are the days when organizations can just offer bonuses to attract people. Systems need all the other pieces, and should invest in initiatives that attract and keep the talent.  

How nurse leaders can best care for themselves, so they can successfully lead others 

"Set time aside to do things you enjoy, things that reinstill joy and peace," Dr. Woods said, adding that she enjoys spending quality time with her family, reading, going outside and taking walks.

Dr. Woods said it's important to know when to step away from work and re-energize. "It's really hard — we've been trained over the years to pick up all shifts, to help out always," Dr. Woods said. "If you continue to do that, you don't have the time to sit back and recharge… I call it, igniting my own spark to be the best person I can be."  

"We don't want to let down our peers, but, as leaders, we have to say 'No, I can't, I need to step away,'" Dr. Woods said. "We all have a spark in nursing, this desire to care for people in need, but if you continually work, that spark will go out." 

The bottom line

Demonstrating the system values the workforce and understands that its most valuable commodity is the workforce is key, Dr. Woods said. If an organization doesn't value its workforce, it won't have one.  


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