In 1854, when the British were unprepared for the mass number of sick and injured soldiers fighting in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was called upon to manage the nurses who cared for them. As our current healthcare system contends with COVID-19, it is timely that the World Health Organization designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in her honor.
When the institution made the announcement in January of 2019, no one could have predicted just how pivotal a role nurses would play in 2020. Though nurses have always stepped up in times of crisis, the work they are doing on the front lines of the pandemic shines a bright light on their contribution to the healthcare industry, as well as the need for healthcare facilities to invest resources into ensuring nurses have a positive work environment.
Here are some things healthcare leaders can do to help support nurses now and in the wake of the pandemic.
Start at the Top
Nurse managers are responsible for ensuring their unit provides the highest possible quality of care as well as fostering a healthy work environment for their staff. Aim to hire nurse managers who not only possess superior clinical skills, but also strong leadership and communication skills. An effective nurse manager is honest, accessible, and respectful. This type of manager establishes trust with nurses and creates a sense of community within the unit.
When you find excellent nurse managers, make sure they have the tools and support to be proficient in their role. Updated technology and equipment is crucial to nurse managers' success, and the entire healthcare system. Telehealth, EMRs, centralized command centers, and powerful reporting tools streamline nurse manager's day-to-day managerial activities.
Encourage nurse managers to pursue ongoing leadership development opportunities internally and through professional organizations. They also benefit from one-on-one time with their superiors. Nursing executives should schedule weekly meetings with managers to discuss concerns and ideas.
Mentoring can also help establish a positive work environment for nurse managers. Consider pairing a new nurse manager with an experienced nurse manager who can provide guidance and share personal experiences. Nurse managers who feel supported and valued in their roles are more likely to make their nurses feel supported and valued.
Minimize the Stressors
There is no doubt that nursing is a physically and emotionally stressful profession. Long hours, irregular sleep patterns and exposure to illness put nurses' physical wellbeing at risk. Tending to sick and injured patients, dealing with worried families, and making ethical decisions day after day can negatively impact nurses' mental health. Although healthcare facilities can't negate these risk factors, there are steps they can take to make work less stressful for nurses.
Nurses who believe their healthcare leaders care about their wellbeing are more likely to ask for help when they are experiencing stress or anxiety. One way to demonstrate your commitment to their physical and mental health is to set aside places within your facility that foster wellness. Comfortable seating, music, and soothing lighting give staff members a place to escape and refocus. An on-site fitness center makes it easy and convenient for staff members to exercise, and implementing a wellness program underscores the facility's commitment to its employee's health.
Another major stressor for nurses are improper staffing levels. When nurses are required to care for too many patients, they become exhausted and overwhelmed. This not only negatively affects nurse's health; it also adversely affects the quality of patient care. Nurse scheduling software helps ensure proper staffing levels and nurse-to-patient ratios. It also cuts the time managers spend on scheduling, so they have more time to assist nurses with other core responsibilities.
Hear Them Out
Ultimately, only nurses know what nurses need to make their work environment less stressful. Develop a questionnaire about their experience on the job and what is important to them in their work. Ask specific questions about job satisfaction and working conditions, as these are key indicators of how you are doing to provide a positive work experience for your nursing staff. Additionally, healthcare leaders should have an open-door policy and listen when nurses bring up concerns.
There is no more opportune time than the Year of The Nurse for healthcare facilities to focus on supporting their nurses and providing them with positive, healthy work environments. Enlist management at all levels to contribute to the efforts. Because, in the words of Ms. Nightingale, "To be in charge is certainly not only to carry out the proper measures yourself but to see that everyone else does so too."
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