3 Ways to Engage the Next Generation of RNs

Christine Corning RN BSN

Director, Healthcare Vertical at Cornerstone OnDemand

Katrina Greer applied to college planning to become an orthodontist. But after her father was diagnosed with leukemia during her senior year of high school, her aspirations of working in healthcare shifted.

"I remember the nurses coming in and taking care of him, while he would shake and wasn't able to do things himself," says Katrina, "Nurses saved my dad."

Katrina is now a Registered Nurse at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, where her father was treated. But while she entered the job with a keen, personal understanding of quality patient care from watching her fathers' nurses, and with technical skills from years of school, her education is far from over.

"There's new things that come out every single day that you have to adjust to," says Katrina. The technical and medical knowledge required of nurses today far exceeds the expectations of previous decades, and in addition to more complex job requirements, the talent pipeline for nursing is thin.

Preparing RNs for a Future of Quality Care

As experienced nurses retire and healthcare reform expands coverage, the need for nurses is exceeding the supply. A recent study from Georgetown University predicts the economy will create 1.6 million job openings for nurses by 2020—but schools are struggling to meet growing demand, leading to an estimated shortfall of nearly 200,000 nursing professionals.

With a talent shortage and an increasingly young workforce, it's critical for hospitals to provide access to education and training for nurses. Continued education not only helps nurses make more informed decisions, it also increases employee engagement—leading to better patient care overall. According to a recent Gallup report, higher nurse engagement scores lead to lower patient mortality and complications.

Below are three learning strategies to engage the next generation of nurses and ensure a future of quality care:

1. Provide 24/7 Access to Training

As Katrina shared, RNs must constantly adapt to new patient situations, treatment options and industry regulations. Access to reference materials and live sessions provides nurses with the knowledge they need to provide the best care for their patients.

In addition, the American Society for Healthcare and Human Resources Administration found that employees who have access to "meaningful learning and development opportunities" are typically highly engaged.

2. Offer Real-Time Evaluation

Annual reviews and one-off feedback sessions often fail to make a substantial difference in employee performance. Instead, offer proactive feedback to help nurses improve on the floor. Cornerstone's Observation Checklist software is one way to evaluate performance in real-time—with customizable rating methods based on your organization's goals and online access to reporting features.

Not only does real-time feedback help nurses consistently improve, but studies show that strong development programs also lead to a 27 percent lower employee turnover.

3. Align Individual Goals with Organization's Mission

Nursing is far more than giving shots and assessing patients. As Angela Perlakowski, an RN at Penn Hershey, shares, "The best nurses are ones who can balance compassion and critical thinking."

People typically pursue a career in healthcare because they want to help people—but the multitude of small tasks and important details can be distracting from this larger goal. By aligning each nurse's goals with the mission of the hospital, you can help employees learn to complete tasks while truly caring for the patient. In the end, this will lead to stronger employee loyalty, better performance and higher patient satisfaction.

Photo: Shutterstock

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