Listen to nurses to learn how to support them: Insights from an award-winning nurse leader

Hospital leaders are grappling with multiple challenges that affect their nursing workforce. Surmounting these challenges begins with identifying where problems stem from and applying intelligent solutions.

During an October webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Vocera, Rhonda Collins, DNP, RN, FAAN, chief nursing officer at Vocera, discussed the complex work environment nurses face and steps nurse leaders can take to protect their colleagues and the organizations in which they practice.

Three key learnings were:

1. Leaders rank staff shortages as a top risk factor for nurses' safety and well-being. Other top risks are COVID-19 and cognitive load. In an American Hospital Association survey conducted earlier this year, 55 percent of respondents pointed out that communication around changing policies and protocols, such as those that proliferated early in the pandemic, was a significant problem. 

2. Burnout is a work-related injury. Two main sources of burnout are having limited control over one's work and doing work that is overly complex or urgent over an extended period of time. Both are the reality of many nurses. "What nurses really want is for their task load to be eased," Dr. Collins said. "Suggesting that people meditate or listen to a mindfulness recording is great, but if nurses take five minutes out of every hour to go collect themselves and come back to a chaotic and unsustainable work environment, that newfound serenity will be quickly lost."

3. There are proven ways to safeguard and support nurses. Dr. Collins, a sought-after speaker on the evolving role of nurses and the use of communication technology to improve care, spelled out six actions leaders can take to change the norms and expectations that lead to high-stress situations. 

  • Equip nurses with tools they need to do the fundamentals of their job. This could mean something as obvious as making it easy to find and connect with the right people instead of them spending valuable time trying to figure out who to call using outdated call sheets or asking around during a critical situation. 


  • Empower nurses with control over patient-family communication. Technology can be leveraged to trigger automated messages that update patients' loved ones instead of requiring nurses to frequently field anxious calls from friends and family that disrupt their workflow.


  • Put nurses in the driver's seat when developing plans for crisis care. "It's time for bedside nurses to sit in the seat of power and tell us how they need to be trained and the resources they need rather than us sitting in a room and coming up with a 10-year plan," Dr. Collins said.


  • Soften the impact of working in unfamiliar environments. During the pandemic, many nurses were deployed to different departments. Experts became novice. When nurses are asked to work in unfamiliar settings, it can make them feel insecure or unprepared. Intelligent software-enabled tools that let them set reminders and get information or help with simple voice commands can help minimize their cognitive burden.. 


  • Combat workplace violence by confronting it aggressively. Outfitting nurses with a discreet panic button is one way to counter immediate risk, but reviewing how organizational culture, policies and technology can be leveraged to prevent violence can also have a great impact. 


  • Measure and solve for the communication task load. Hospital leaders need to minimize the threat that nurses feel from changes to their work environment as a result of staffing, protocols or regulatory requirements. In a call to action, Dr. Collins said leaders must "intentionally dismantle what causes [violence] to happen in the first place."


Hospitals and health systems expect a great deal from nurses, and nurses constantly rise to the occasion to do what is required — but the healthcare ecosystem needs to do a better job of protecting and supporting nurses.

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