Lately I’ve heard so many people say that nurse retention is a management issue, or a hospital problem, or something to be dealt with “above” the bedside. No, no, no! We have to address the importance of our role as bedside nurses in helping to retain our fellow nurses. We should all be asking ourselves what we can do to help our coworkers get a job, and more importantly, we should make sure they want to keep their job!

Here’s what we can do at the bedside to help.

1. Introduce yourself.

This may seem obvious, but stop walking by nurses you don’t know! Stop them and initiate a conversation. You know that girl that you see that you’re low-key afraid of because she never says a word to you? Don’t be that girl. Just. Say. Hello. Not that hard! I usually say, “oh are you a float?” (Just in case they’ve actually been at your hospital for ten years, ya know?) And when they say “No, I’m new,” just introduce yourself and let them know you’re here for them. People really just want to know they have someone to help them and a friend to go to at work. And just because you introduce yourself doesn’t mean you have to be their best friend forever.

Furthermore, ideally your institution has already sent out a welcome email letting you know who your unit’s new staff are so that this isn’t even an issue, but if they haven’t, that might be a good suggestion for your weekly or monthly unit emails or newsletters.

2. Recognize nurses.

Nothing has really changed since kindergarten. People like snacks and naps still, right? Yep, and people also still like to be recognized. Help your unit recognize other nurses’ birthdays, achievements, life events, etc. It can be in the form of a card or a recognition system that your hospital uses. Even a verbal recognition in huddle or just in the hallway goes a long way.

3. Celebrate with your fellow nurses.

Celebrate life’s achievements! Celebrate 100 days CLABSI free, celebrate no IV infiltrates for the month, etc. Celebrate your group of guys and gals that get certified! Heck, we even celebrate random days of the week with chips and dip parties or cookie parties on night shift.

4. Teach your nurses something.

Everyone has something to learn, regardless of experience level. Help find out what areas are lacking in your unit and suggest these areas to your educators. Also, help precept new nurses or orient floats and travelers. You were new at one point, too, and everyone needs a good preceptor. Remember how challenging it can be coming to a new place, finding supplies, learning who your resources are, etc. Being a preceptor is an opportunity to mold someone’s positive perspective!

5. Help each other.

Always try and make rounds on the unit if you can and check and see if anyone needs help. If your unit isn’t laid out where you can reach everyone then try reaching out to your nearby buddies. Check with your charge nurse, too. Identify colleagues that may need some extra help throughout their day and let them know you are there for them. Consider sharing your phone number with them so they can reach out if they need you.

6. Have a committee.

Start a club or committee that solely functions to do good things for the staff. Make your goal to improve nurse satisfaction by representing your nurses and making them feel good. Consider putting together a brief pre/post survey to measure and track your results over time. Once you are established, consider expanding your goal to improving employee satisfaction, reaching out to all disciplines. Environmental services is one of my favorite groups to recognize and reward for the hard (and not so clean) work they do day in and day out! We initiated a “day” for different groups, ie: a PCT Day where we made cookies for the PCT’s and a Doctor’s Day where we hosted a potluck breakfast.

7. Prepare welcome gifts for new nurses.

My favorite project of all is the welcome gifts for new employees. Create a cute little poem, mnemonic, etc. that goes with a night shift survival kit or day shift energy kit. Consider gum, hair ties, K-cups, etc. Include a laminated list of unit resources for your staff so they know who to turn to!

8. Check in frequently.

This is a great way to keep tabs on all the newbies. Have a list of your new staff and go around and check on them once a month or once a week if need be. It can be a mental list and doesn’t have to be a formal conversation. I try to always remember one small piece about each person, e.g., “how’s your house hunt going?” or “how’s your garden project coming along?” People like to talk about what’s good for them, and what better way to promote a positive environment?

9. Ask (and give) feedback.

Always ask your fellow nurses for feedback. I keep a running list of areas for improvement in the back of my notebook that I hear in conversation. Make sure your management knows these issues. Never be afraid to email your managers with feedback you’ve received and suggestions for these issues or concerns. Maybe they haven’t heard of these problems yet! Be a liaison for your fellow nurses and your managers. 

10. Ask about unit differences.

Differences are key here. It’s easy to get annoyed with the “well in my unit we…” especially when you’re precepting, but take that as an opportunity to ask your orientee or new friend to make a list of all the things that could be better in your unit, or that were smoother in their former unit. Share these ideas at your unit’s council meetings or with your manager.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be a huge difficult task. Nurse retention starts with the small things; the little things that people remember and carry with them. Often, nurse retention stems from how nurses feel day in and day out, which makes this our responsibility as bedside nurses to support our managers, directors, and hospitals in the effort to retain nurses. Comment below with what works at your hospital!

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Alicia Klingensmith, BSN, RN

Alicia Klingensmith received her BSN from the University of North Florida and currently works in the NICU at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

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