Healthcare News & Insights

Boost retention of ICU nurses: Here’s how

ICU nurses currently have high rates of turnover and burnout. One new study gives insight into how hospitals can avoid this phenomenon.

155784055In the study, published in the American Journal of Critical Care, nurses in the ICU were initially asked a series of questions about their general feelings toward their profession.

Then, several of them were invited to participate in a 12-week intervention program consisting of different types of sessions designed to boost their resilience and give them better coping skills to handle the pressures of their daily work.

The program started with a two-day educational workshop that introduced nurses to the concepts of mindfulness-based stress reduction and expressive writing.

To cut down on their stress, nurses were encouraged to use meditation techniques, following along with a guided CD they received to use on their own at home. They were also prompted to keep written journals where they detailed how they felt about work-related challenges and stressful events.

In addition, exercise was a key component of the program. Researchers asked nurses to perform aerobic exercise for 30 to 45 minutes a day.

Counseling sessions

Besides these resources, ICU nurses were also asked to participate in special counseling sessions with trained clinical social workers if they experienced certain stressful events while working. These events included:

  • the death of a patient
  • caring for a patient with traumatic injuries or massive bleeding
  • discussing end-of-life care with patients or their families
  • performing futile care on a terminally-ill patient, and
  • performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a patient.

At the end of the study, the nurses who participated were again evaluated on their feelings toward their job and the stress they faced each day. Fewer nurses reported symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They also showed signs of developing better coping mechanisms to handle the stressful events they encountered in the ICU.

Nurses felt the most helpful aspects of the program were the access to counseling and the way it helped them form a more supportive network with their peers. They also appreciated the opportunity to write about traumatic work events.

What your hospital can do

Several hospitals across the country have already put programs in place to reduce burnout for doctors and nurses. While a comprehensive stress-reduction program may be difficult to implement from scratch in your hospital, focusing on some smaller aspects could go a long way in improving retention of ICU nurses.

Example: Encourage nurses to practice better self-care by exercising and participating in other stress-relieving activities outside of work.

Your hospital could also look into creating opportunities for nurses to come together and discuss how they handle certain traumatic events, or share tips for relaxing and dealing with stressful events.

And if your hospital has the budget, consider having a consultant come in to briefly speak to your nurses about journaling to relieve work stress or practicing mindfulness techniques. It could save your hospital thousands in recruitment costs.

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