Nurses douse burnout at Saint Luke's by taking virtual shifts 

The expanding virtual nursing program at Kansas City, Mo.-based Saint Luke's Healthcare System is doing more than reducing administrative burdens on nurses. It is also providing those  suffering from burnout with choices. Instead of leaving the profession they love, they can take a "time out" and care for patients who are able to reach them remotely with a touch of a call button. 

Virtual nurses at Saint Luke's answer patient questions and handle a significant amount of administrative work, including admissions and discharge tasks — freeing up floor nurses to care for patients at the bedside. 

Saint Luke's virtual nursing department, launched in early 2022 by Susie Krug, BSN, chief nursing officer at the system's East Hospital in Lee's Summit, Mo., is now housed in a centralized hub in downtown Kansas City. The pilot program started with 33 beds in one unit and has been scaled to serve patients in 550 beds in eight hospitals across the health system, Ms. Krug told Becker's.

"Virtual nursing provides a great opportunity for nurses who have many years of experience and knowledge to serve the patients in a new way," Ms. Krug said. "It also provides bedside nurses with a change of pace. It's a great way to balance the workload between virtual and bedside."

She said Saint Luke's is using its virtual nursing program to mitigate burnout.

"This is really about offering nurses flexibility. Flexible scheduling can be difficult with 12-hour shifts. We have started to offer eight-hour shifts but are finding that nurses want flexibility in terms of what they're doing each and every day," Ms. Krug said. "By changing up where they are working and what they are doing, they get a change of scenery and the ability to recharge."

Saint Luke's virtual nursing program also incentivizes experienced nurses who are looking to slow down a bit or possibly exit the profession, as well as those put on restricted duty, with the ability to stay on and continue caring for patients, albeit in a less stressful, less physical environment, she said.

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