These days, most nurses have their pick of jobs — and they can afford to be choosy about them: In light of global nursing demand, especially with the spread of COVID-19, many hospitals and clinics have stepped up recruitment and nurse appreciation strategies to attract lasting talent.
It’s important that they do, given that the world could be short some 9 million nurses by 2030, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). By declaring 2020 the “Year of the Nurse and Midwife,” the WHO aims to meet the growing needs.
As a physician, you’re in a unique position to help. Here’s how.
Physicians’ Impact on Nurse Morale
The way a physician interacts with medical staff — particularly nurses — can have a direct impact on those individuals’ morale, job satisfaction and risk for burnout. Negative interactions with staff can create toxic work environments and contribute to turnover.
And it may be more pervasive than you think: A 2018 survey from RNnetwork reported that more than 60% of nurses said they felt burned out. More alarming, roughly 40% of them reported feeling harassed or bullied, with 23% of those instances coming from doctors. Those reports align with anecdotes, including a recent article from KevinMD that shared nurses’ desire just to be thanked or otherwise seen “as a person.”
On their own, these stories should concern you — but coupled with a looming nursing shortage, they indicate more systemic problems in need of comprehensive solutions. Moreover, the fix isn’t as simple as sending out nurse appreciation cards during National Nurses Week (which, by the way, is in May!).
5 Ways to Create a Nurse-Friendly Culture
So what can you do to make a markedly positive difference so that your nurses feel included, satisfied on the job and encouraged to stay? Whether you work at a hospital or as a practice owner, start by supporting a nurse-friendly culture. These tips may help:
1. Foster Collaboration Through Joint Rounding
According to physician staffing firm Merritt Hawkins, physician-nurse rounding can facilitate handoffs, improve patients’ experiences and reduce redundant communications. Though joint rounding may not work in all health settings, history shows that it can make an impact where feasible, as a review in the American Journal of Nursing makes clear.
2. Lead by Example
If you’re in a position of leadership — either as a practice owner or medical director, for example — make an effort to actively and visibly collaborate with nursing leadership. Not only can it help you both learn from (and respect) each other’s experiences and knowledge, but it can also inspire other doctors and nurses to follow suit to help break down silos or barriers.
3. Reflect on How You Come Across
You don’t have to go so far as strapping on a camera to record conversations (like researchers did for a 2018 BMJ Quality & Safety study), but it can help to think back to your interactions with nurses and consider whether your tone matched your intentions. Periodically check in with yourself throughout the day. Were you courteous? Respectful? Rushed? Professional? Did you give the information needed? What can you do tomorrow to be better?
4. Advocate for Hiring More Nurses
Burnout affects professionals across the care continuum, nurses included. Workload feeds into the problem: 46% of respondents to RNnetwork’s survey said their bandwidth had gotten smaller in the past two years. If budget allows, hiring more RNs or NPs can help ease that pressure, allocate hours and support a precious resource for nurses everywhere: their mental health. Even if you don’t make hiring decisions, you can still champion the choice to hire more nurses.
5. Give Nurses the Tools and Resources They Need
Quantity and quality go hand in hand: While having more nurses is a good thing, helping the existing nursing workforce grow their skillsets and their influence is even better. So it’s no surprise that the WHO emphasized this approach in their 2016-2020 recommendations guide for strengthening nursing and midwifery. Enabling nurses can mean a lot of things, including giving them quality access to:
- Equipment, like patient-monitoring machines that feature ease of use and less alarm fatigue
- Tools, like telecom or mobile device systems that include doctors and nurses on the same comms loop
- Resources, like medical journals, quick reference guides or other easy-to-access materials
Of course, nobody says you can’t send your nursing staff gifts or notes of appreciation to acknowledge the work they do. Small acts of kindness still matter. But given the harsh realities of labor shortages, it will take more than a card to get and keep the kind of talent you need on your side. Otherwise, the hospital down the road might be pleased to poach them away.
“Let’s make 2020, not only the Year of the Nurse and Midwife,” said Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN and Chief Nurse of Health Learning, Research & Practice at Wolters Kluwer, “but the year that every person on the planet can truly say, I am lucky to have had my life touched by a nurse.”