May is Nurses Month, a time to take note of the exceptional, life-saving work done by the nation’s nursing professionals each and every day. And, as one of North America’s leading nurse recruitment companies, we’re proud to help lead the way in celebrating nurses with some tips on how to support them with nursing professional development opportunities during a difficult time.
Why Nursing Professional Development Matters to Healthcare Employers
There’s a good reason why nursing professional development is the focus of an entire week of activities as part of the American Nurses Association’s week-by-week itinerary for Nurses Month 2022. Not only is professional development a powerful tool to help nurses achieve their ideal careers, but it’s also an effective way to promote employee retention, as well as to infuse new skills into the nursing workforce.
Professional development “is fundamental for retention and reducing turnover,” as Denise Chamberlain of Edward-Elmhurst Health told HealthLeaders Media’s David Weldon. “There are truly few investments we can make in our people that would not have an ROI if we do them sincerely and well. We can actually save money by investing in development.”
In many states, nurses are required to undertake a certain amount of continuing education (CE) credits every year to maintain their license. Those credits are often used to earn new certifications, which can unlock new career opportunities for nurses. The same process also helps to ensure that healthcare organizations are offering patients high-quality care from nurses with up-to-date knowledge and skills.
The Impact of Covid-19 on Nursing Professional Development
Most leaders understand the benefits of, and need for, nursing professional development in this context. To that end, many hospitals and facilities have integrated various programs to promote it. Encouraging as this trend is, however, it’s also largely fallen by the wayside during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has had a profound and unanticipated effect on nursing professional development. It began by accelerating the nationwide nursing shortage, which had been creating challenges even before Covid-19. Often by necessity, nurses who remain in the workforce have more to do — different roles to fill, new technology to understand, or new settings to work in, among a host of other contingencies.
The result has been a rapid expansion in nursing skill development, but of a more informal nature than before. This has been beneficial for employers, bringing valuable new skills into the workplace. But it’s now beginning to work to their detriment, as many nurses are using these same new skills to move up the career ladder — and that often means accepting an opportunity from a different employer.
“For many healthcare systems, there is little time to focus on formal career development programs,” as Weldon puts. “But for many healthcare workers, new job opportunities are endless.”
4 Tips for Nursing Professional Development in 2022
The challenge for leaders, then, is to embrace this new type of nursing career development in a way that keeps workers happy, while also benefiting their own organizations and the patients and communities they serve. Here are some tips for getting that job done.
#1: Follow your staff’s lead with acknowledgment and recognition.
As Weldon points out, nurses and clinicians have created their own systems of training or skill development to compensate for the lack of a formal program in many facilities.
“For many healthcare systems, there aren’t workers for even the minimal requirements, and therefore, little time to focus on formal career development programs,” writes Weldon. As a result, many healthcare workers “have stepped up and created new projects, programs, and training, and have greatly expanded their skills and qualifications.”
Where these situations exist, employers should work to help and support the efforts of their staff. They can provide resources like textbooks or training equipment, or by providing time in the form of a dedicated, compensated space on the schedule. Most importantly, employers can provide legitimacy to these efforts, and potentially a way to tie it into a formal CE process.
#2: Offer easier access to CE and certifications.
At CareerStaff, we make a point of helping nurses and clinicians expand their skills, experience, and prospects at every opportunity. Included in our suite of benefits is reimbursement for continuing education (CE) credits, along with encouragement to earn different certifications with those credits.
Employers of full-time nursing staff can do the same by making sure that team members have access to courses — which could involve a need for transportation or computer literacy — and the time in their schedules to pursue education-related goals.
#3: Provide career planning and leadership development programs.
If your facility doesn’t already offer career planning and leadership development programs for team members, you’re missing a valuable opportunity to boost job satisfaction while helping leadership-minded workers move into the roles they prefer. “Turnover is terribly expensive and good leaders are priceless,” as Chamberlain puts it.
She recommends solving that problem by assembling an in-facility “career track” that enables staff “to acquire new skills, more responsibilities, and improved opportunities without leaving their current employer.”
If your own on-site resources are somewhat limited, there are other approaches to consider. After all, today’s nursing professional development strategies require rethinking the traditional models. For instance, Edward-Elmhurst Health has engaged in partnerships with local community colleges to help workers “enhance their skills and become certified in their role” without switching employers.
#4: Help nurses empower themselves.
Especially in the era of Covid-19, taking the time to actively pursue a new career path often takes a backseat to other more immediate challenges in a nurse’s day-to-day life. Many who work as nurses may come home to provide care for ill family members. Others could be struggling with emotional health issues related to the pandemic.
Even during normal times, it’s important to support nursing staff by making them feel valued. This could come in the form of the emotional validation of embracing our Nurses Month theme, “More Than a Nurse… a Difference Maker.”
It could also take more practical forms, such as providing a certain number of perks — free coffee, free meals, an extra day off, whatever each specific team would most appreciate. (If you don’t know, ask them.) Providing the time and resources to pursue self-care, meditation, yoga or other activities can help nurses feel appreciated while offering a means to reflect and pursue career development.
Need Help with Nursing Professional Development?
Yes, there is a recurring theme in all of these tips — the need to support nursing professional development in the form of “time and resources,” as Weldon puts it. And yes, offering both of these generally comes down to finding new room in the budget.
However, one way to offer your regular nursing staff some much-needed time off is with contingency staffing solutions. By bolstering your staff with temporary and contingency staff, you’ll have the flexibility to give your core team the support they need to ensure you’re delivering the highest quality patient care.
CareerStaff specializes in providing employers with contingency staff like travel and per diem nurses, as well as more comprehensive workforce solutions that can help facilities integrate nursing professional development programs and other strategic solutions. Find out how we can help your organization — learn more about our nurse staffing services here, or submit a staffing nurse request now.