Strategies to Combat Burnout in the Hospital Setting

Burnout is a long-standing issue among staff in healthcare and a key contributor to America’s on-going nurse shortage, says Karlene Kerfoot in this opinion piece.

Burnout is a long-standing issue among staff in healthcare and a key contributor to America’s on-going nurse shortage. Registered nurse (RN) turnover costs a hospital between $3.6m – $6.5m annually, according to the 2021 NSI National Health Care Retention and RN Staffing Report.

Prior to the pandemic, 1.2 million registered nurse vacancies were predicted by 2022 as aging baby boomers retire and health care needs grow. This number will likely increase because of the COVID pandemic which added unprecedented levels of duress to already-overstretched nurses. Burnout is causing early retirement and prompting others to leave the hospital grind for less demanding environments. Fewer than 50% of nurses today work in a hospital. Half opt for less stressful settings with more predictable hours like ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) and stand-alone specialty clinics.

Hospitals are in an arduous position. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports nursing schools across the country are struggling to expand capacity to meet the rising demand for care. Hospitals also compete with ASCs, specialty clinics, entrepreneurial start-ups and established healthcare-related businesses for talent. Savvy hospital leaders recognize that to successfully attract—and retain—talent they must reassess how they view nurses. Otherwise, patient health–and a hospital’s bottom line–are at risk.

Investment or expense?

Nurses are typically viewed through two vastly different lenses. To some healthcare leaders, nurses are seen as an expense. And to minimize expenses, nurse headcount is reduced. When stretched thin stress levels are higher, retention is low and patient satisfaction and outcomes frequently suffer.

In comparison, nurses working in a hospital where they are viewed as an investment—not an expense—tend to be happier, patient satisfaction is higher, and outcomes are typically better. Nurses in these environments are nurtured and trained to ensure they have the skillsets needed to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Magnet hospitals are a great example of the successes associated with investing in nursing staff.

Magnet designation by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is considered the “gold standard” for nursing excellence. To attain Magnet status, a hospital must meet a lengthy series of credentialing requirements through the AANC’s Magnet Recognition Program. Achieving Magnet status is a multi-year, costly process. Supporters believe overwhelming that the benefits of the program far outweigh the costs. Evidence shows that turnover is much lower in Magnet hospitals, as nurses are more satisfied. In fact, Magnet hospital are often sought out by nurses. Quality outcomes and patient satisfaction are also markedly better at Magnet hospitals.

A gold standard approach

Since demand exceeds supply, the competition for nursing talent is fierce. Hospitals can no longer turn a blind eye to workforce issues.They must do a better job of attracting—and retaining—quality nurses. Achieving Magnet status is not an immediate solution, but there is much to learn from this extraordinarily successful gold standard program. A great starting point is taking a hard look at how nurses are viewed by the leadership team and then, look at staffing.

Staffing levels and talent acquisition efforts can have a significant effect on nurse satisfaction and an organization’s bottom line. Headcount planning must be strategic. Healthcare-specific talent management software and advisory solutions make it easier to hire, keep and grow quality talent. Workforce management systems simplify managing labor costs including time, attendance and staff scheduling. An integrated, enterprise-wide system ensures consistency across health systems with multiple hospitals.

The adage, happy employees are loyal employees, certainly rings true in the healthcare industry. Employees who feel valued at work are more motivated to do their best work. With adequate staffing in place, meaningful recognition programs help maintain a culture and environment where people grow and feel appreciated. One of the most notable recognition programs for nurses is the DAISY (Diseases Attacking the Immune System) Award, an international recognition program that honors and celebrates the skillful, compassionate care nurses provide every day in bedside, leadership/manager and educator roles. 

The DAISY Foundation was established by the family of J. Patrick Barnes after he died from complications of the auto-immune disease ITP in 1999. During his hospitalization, they deeply appreciated the care and compassion shown to Patrick and his entire family. When he died, they felt compelled to say "thank you" to nurses in a very public way. More than 4,800 healthcare facilities and schools of nursing in all 50 states and 28 other countries honor nurses with The DAISY Award.

Technology should facilitate better care, not be a distraction. Learn how technology is impacting day-to-day work. Using multiple, disparate systems can be a real headache and another key contributor to nurse burnout. Integrated technology minimizes data entry requirements, and minimizes errors associated with redundant data entry. When processes are streamlined and simple, there is less chaos on the frontline.

Hospitals owe it to people on the frontline to make their lives easier and simpler. It is a moral imperative that nurses are recognized as an investment; and have the resources they need thrive and grow.

Karlene Kerfoot is the Chief Nursing Officer at symplr, a global leader in enterprise healthcare operations including governance, risk management, and compliance (“GRC”) SaaS solutions.