How to retain seasoned nurses, per 8 focus groups

Hospitals and health systems that embrace scheduling, work roles and overall employment expectations with greater flexibility and agility have a leg up when it comes to retaining nurses age 55 and older, a new focus group study suggests. 

The study, published in the Journal of Nursing Administration and shared with Becker's, is based on feedback from nurses age 55 or older at hospitals in Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health System. Eight focus groups were conducted from December 2020 to May 2021 with nearly 50 nurse participants. Participants had to meet the following criteria: worked 24 hours or more per week, provide direct patient care, or retired within the last two years.

Overall, nurses indicated that their decisions related to retirement were predominantly influenced by the love of nursing, joy of caring for patients and personal identity of their job, according to the study. 

"These reasons to remain working for senior nurse participants trumped the stress of rising patient acuity, competing demands in the workplace, and the COVID-19 pandemic," researchers wrote. "With one exception, COVID-19 did not influence early or accelerated retirement among participants in the study. However, physical demands of the job, 12-hour shifts, and lack of flexible scheduling were reported as significant factors in consideration of leaving the workforce."

The study's lead author, Kim Slusser, MSN, RN, vice president of patient care services for New Haven-based Smilow Cancer Hospital, part of Yale New Haven Health, told Becker's that there was a perceived difference in mindset and work ethic among senior nurse participants, but participants had similar desires for work-life balance and flexible schedules as identified in the literature of younger nurses.

To counter the physical effects of aging and work demands, researchers said study participants suggested operational adjustments in scheduling as well as innovative ideas for roles to optimize mentoring novice nurses.

The study had limitations, including that it took place in one health system, and that the focus groups were composed of primarily white women.

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