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You’ll need to find creative ways to staff your ED and avoid high vacancy rates, says Diana Contino, RN, MBA, CEN, CCRN, president of Emergency Management Systems, a Monarch Beach, CA-based consulting firm that specializes in staffing issues. "Recognize that it’s not easy, and you can only change culture, processes, and operations one person, project, and system at a time," she advises. "Be sure to surround yourself with people who will give you help and insight during difficult times."
Here are a dozen suggestions to recruit and retain nurses during the shortage:
1. Write one thank-you note a week. Send it to a staff member or hospital employee, and teach your staff to do the same, says Contino.
2. Have staff mentor other nurses. Staff nurses can be effective supervisors of licensed vocational nurses, licensed practical nurses, and technicians, says Contino.
3. Document the cost of turnover in your department. Lobby to spend that money on adequate staffing and customer service programs, says Contino.
4. Create new positions. Implement unique programs for nursing staff, advises Contino. "For example, create a position that is part-time community service, 24 hours of clinical per week, and 12 hours of promotional time at the local school or doing health screening at the senior center," she suggests.
5. Provide staff with low-cost computers. Have the hospital set up a program to purchase inexpensive computers for staff, and have the price deducted from their paychecks over a period of one or two years, says Contino.
"Marriott [International, based in Washington, DC] does these things for their employees," she notes.
6. Send staff to educational seminars. To keep up with trends, nurses should be asked to present clinical and operational summaries at staff meetings, Contino suggests.
7. Ask physicians to provide case reviews at staff meetings for nurses and physicians. Provide continuing education units at no cost, suggests Contino.
8. Utilize medical students. Find eager medical students who want to volunteer in the ED and teach them to assist nurses, says Contino.
"In return, let them observe and interact as much as you can within your hospital’s policies and procedures," she adds.
9. Ask a nurse to design your ED web page. Pay a nurse who is interested in web design to go to classes, suggests Contino.
"Have the nurse design a web page that educates the community about emergency services. Post fliers about it in the ED, and coordinate your efforts with the hospital public relations staff," she says.
10. Court local nursing students. Hire them as technicians in the ED with the promise to hire them as new graduates if they meet certain requirements, says Contino.
11. Give gifts to outstanding nurses. Give out Palm Pilots as quarterly "incentive" gifts to outstanding employees, says Contino.
12. Pay a nurse to perform patient customer service callbacks. Also, have a group of nurses suggest improvements to the ED so it is more customer service-focused, she suggests.