Paula Mayer, an HR business partner with Carson Tahoe Health in Carson City, Nev., shares nursing staff development ideas her organization uses to boost retention.

Especially when there are more jobs than people to fill them, nursing staff development ideas can be a saving grace.

In the midst of filling those jobs, it’s easy to lose sight of the reason why nurses matter in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

When organizations stand behind nursing development initiatives, it has a direct influence on patients and gives nurses a reason to stay put.

“Nursing development is important because, at the end of the day, we want to deliver the best patient care,” Mayer said. “It makes sense, we invest in our people and they invest in our patients.”

Part of nursing staff development includes learning how to develop relationships inside the organization, something Mayer said helps with nurse retention.

Keeping nurses happily employed helps improve the bottom line at hospitals. The national turnover rate for RNs is about 17.2%, according to a 2016 National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report.

Turnover rates are lowest for RNs working in pediatrics and women’s health and highest in the med/surg, behavioral and emergency departments, according to the survey.

Increased turnover costs stack up quickly. Losing a registered nurse costs a healthcare organization $37,700 to $58,400 on average. That translates to $5.2 million to $8.1 million for the average hospital, according to the survey.

1 — Develop relationships through mentoring

Wonder what the secret ingredient is for relationship development? It depends who you ask.

According to Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, the CEO of the National League for Nursing, a strong mentoring program is one way to go.

A good mentor helps nurses become acquainted with the system at a healthcare facility and shows them how to navigate their way through it.

“It’s the idea that someone already knows the system, which is frequently unknown to you, and they have the generosity of spirit to help you understand how you fit into that system,” Malone said.

Mentoring allows nurses to have dialogue with their mentor, Malone said. Asking questions and getting feedback about whether they are making good decisions prepares nurses for upward mobility within an organization.

2 — Offer new grads residency programs

Carson Tahoe Health offers residency programs for new grads. The six-month program usually produces up to 55 new nurses per year for the health system, Mayer said.

“The program helps create those bonds with other nurses going through the program,” she said.

Nursing staff development ideas, such as creating a residency program, take a lot of planning and dedicated effort. So assessing the risks and rewards of a residency program is important when considering nurse turnover.

“For a while, we did not hire new grads,” Mayer said. “It’s a lot of training and a huge investment.”

Plus, she said, there is no guarantee those nurses will stay with your organization.

Because the unemployment rate is so low, and the nursing job market is so hot, Mayer said her organization decided to start hiring new grads through a residency program.

Otherwise, it’s too challenging to fill nursing jobs.

“It’s hard to find people looking for jobs,” Mayer said. “Experienced nurses have their choices where they want to go to, they demand higher pay and they demand the schedules they want.”

The value of residency programs is that nurses are exposed to a variety of departments as they make their rotations. The process eases their transition into the clinical world.

Since nurses in the program work with a variety of patients and colleagues, Malone said it helps them see which unit they like best and where they fit in.

“Nurses then have the opportunity to make informed decisions about where they want to work,” Malone said.

Nurse residency programs are catching on, though it’s unclear exactly how many exist in the U.S.

The NLN Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation is creating accreditation standards for nurse residency programs, according to Malone. The standards will help ensure these programs are viable and meet appropriate standards.

3 — Coaching is a hot trend

Individual and peer coaching is another nursing staff development idea, according to Malone.

“It could be you and a group of new nurses who meet every other week,” she said. “They have that opportunity to talk about their concerns, and you can develop in a way different than mentoring.”

Nurse coaching certificate programs are springing up all over the country, and could be another career option for nurses.

In case you see yourself as the coach, Ohio State University’s College of Nursing offers a nurse coaching graduate certificate.

4 — Clinical ladders provide nurses with career paths

Creating a clinical ladder is another way to help nurses gain development skills.

Mayer said Carson Tahoe Health is considering the concept some time in 2020 among other nursing staff development ideas.

Here’s how Mayer envisions the clinical ladder working in her organization:

  • Level 1: New grad nurses or nurses with less than one year of experience.
  • Level 2: Nurses who have put in a specified amount of hours with the organization (1,500 hours or one year, for example).
  • Level 3: Nurses would be required to obtain a set amount of education, nationally recognized certifications and involvement as a preceptor to other new nurses, work as a team lead or be a charge nurse.