How Healthcare Organizations Can Manage Nurse Workloads

“Most nights on the job, I felt unable to provide my patients the high-quality care that they deserved because of being short-staffed and having access to under-trained residents as our primary point of contact,” Beth Anne Schwamberger told Health Line.How Health Care Organizations Can Manage Nurse Workloads

It’s a common story among those in the nursing profession — being overworked, short-staffed and working without the resources and support needed to provide quality care to patients. Schwamberger, like many nurses in the United States, was dissatisfied with her working conditions and eventually resigned.

Nurse Workloads in the U.S.

For hospitals and other medical institutions that rely on their front-line nursing staff, job dissatisfaction is a serious hurdle to overcome, especially with predictions of worsening nursing shortages.

“With a 20% increase in new nursing positions and a third of all current RNs expected to retire by 2020, the U.S. will need another 1.1 million registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses, such as nurse practitioners, in the next five years,” reports Health Line.

“Those shortages are expected to worsen by 2030, driven partly by people living with multiple chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.”

The Cost of Losing a Nurse

Projected nursing shortages make nurse retention a priority, but it’s not the only factor at play. Studies show that the cost to medical institutions of losing a nurse is extremely high — ranging from $22,000-64,000 per nurse turnover.

So, how can hospitals, nursing homes and retirement communities increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover rates? Reducing nurse workloads is one of the primary factors associated with increased job satisfaction.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “insufficient staffing is raising the stress level of nurses, impacting job satisfaction, and driving many nurses to leave the profession.”

Ways Healthcare Organizations Can Help Manage Nurse Workloads in the U.S.

Better management of nursing workloads is critical for any organization to retain experienced, high quality nurses. When nursing staff are supported and workloads are properly managed, they feel better equipped to provide high quality care to patients. Here are some tips to help:

1. Ensure you have enough nurses on staff.

Don’t cut corners with your staff levels.

Although operating costs are tight across the country, the cost of high turnover rates means that long term, it’s a financially wise decision to ensure your nurses are supported and are not understaffed. Insufficient staffing drives many nurses to find a new position.

2. Create a positive and supportive work environment.

When your staff feels supported and part of a team, they will build a positive environment for themselves and their patients. Nurse.org suggests organizations support nurses by encouraging them to regularly:

  • Find ways to achieve a work-life balance, especially with long or unpredictable shift work
  • Find ways to reduce stress
  • Have fun — encourage nurses to laugh with family, patients and staff  find ways to stay positive and make their shift enjoyable
  • Take a short break when feeling stressed – a quick five minute breather can really help nurses refresh and refocus

It’s important that senior nurses help nurses who are new to the profession or the organization. “Caring about patients is central to quality nursing care. To do this, we must support one another and promote an environment in which experienced nurses assist novice ones and welcome their questions,” explains Joyce L. Nelson, a nursing education specialist in the Department of Nursing at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“We must give high priority to nurturing novices and integrating them into the work team.”

3. Help nurses prioritize.

Nursing staff are pulled in multiple directions during a shift. With proper guidance and training, organizations can help nurses prioritize and learn that it’s okay to say “no.” Nursing Times suggests that nurses “can’t be everywhere at the same time, so some things will have to wait. Check in with a patient, saying something like ‘I’m sorry I have to deal with this right now, but I will be back to help you in a few minutes.'” Help nurses prioritize where they are needed immediately and learn how to balance their immediate priorities with the need to provide all patients with high quality care.

To help set priorities, nurses can ask themselves a number of questions, including:

  • What is most important to the patient?
  • What needs to be done first and why?
  • Which tasks are urgent and why?
  • Which tasks need to be undertaken before others can be completed?
  • What would happen if a task wasn’t carried out immediately?

“Nursing can be unpredictable and your priorities can change very quickly,” Nursing Times points out. Nurses should “learn to be flexible and respond to what’s going on around [them].”

4. Create consistent processes and procedures.

Whether these processes include using a computer for charting, scanning patient ID bracelets before administering medication, or checking in with patients before a shift change, it’s critical that your organization has consistent processes and procedures in place that all nurses know and follow. These processes and procedures should be designed to support better organization and time management, which can help reduce nurse workload.

It’s important for nursing management teams to provide comprehensive training on new procedures and invest in continuing education opportunities for all nursing staff.

5. Support better time management practices.

According to Nursing Times, some tricks of the trade include:

  • Arriving early
  • Creating to-do lists for the day, with approximate time estimates next to each task
  • Delegating tasks and working together as a team

Do you think that nursing homes and other medical organizations that provide a supportive environment with manageable nurse workloads will improve their nurse retention rates? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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