It’s true that nursing school teaches the basics of nursing, but ask any experienced nurse about whether school prepared them for the realities of being a nurse. The answer you’re most likely to get is no. As Millennials take their first steps into an acute care environment, the steep learning curve and shock over what nursing actually is leads many new grad nurses to quickly leave their first jobs — or even the profession altogether.
Before 2007, an astonishing 35-65% of new grad nurses left their first nursing jobs within the first year of employment. Even after the recession, the 2-year turnover rate remains as high as 26%. For organizations large and small, this is a huge problem. It’s expensive to lose so many new nurses so soon after they’re hired, and the looming nursing shortage is set to affect patient care on a level never seen before.
So what’s driving Millennial nurses away from the bedside, and what can you do to encourage your staff to stay? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan for retaining new grad talent, but general changes on the unit make it more likely that your Millennial staff members will stay for the long haul.
Several factors influence a new nurse’s decision to jump ship. Traditionally, new nurses began their practice on med-surg floors right out of school. But now, novice nurses flock to specialty areas that once required several years of general nursing experience.
Millennials apply for jobs in the ICU, OR, PACU, or other specialty units before they even graduate. And while it’s true these areas need dedicated nursing staff, the pressures of caring for patients in a highly specialized practice area — with no experience to fall back on — is too much for many new nurses to handle.
Regardless of which unit a novice nurse joins after school, other factors influencing decisions to leave are similar across the board. When asked why they choose to leave, novices often cite the following reasons:
Research shows Millennial nurses must feel like they’re part of the organization and nursing team. This commitment is directly tied to the decision to remain on a unit, even if work conditions are less than ideal. But beyond helping novices feel welcomed, how can nursing leadership entice Millennials to stay past a year or two?
The approach is two-fold. First, it’s essential to help Millennials feel as though they are actually developing as nurses. Acknowledging accomplishments, like completion of nurse residency programs, helps novice nurses feel like they are growing in their profession. It’s also important to help new nurses develop their skill set, especially if they begin to feel stuck in their job role. Some organizations overcome this by allowing nurses to rotate floors or split time between two different specialties. While this does increase workload, it also helps new nurses gain new skills they apply directly to patient care.
It’s also important to identify nurses thinking of leaving the organization so efforts to redirect them can be started. Millennials, like other employees, naturally wonder about better opportunities elsewhere. Managers can look for signs their employees are dissatisfied with their jobs during regular staff check-ins or job performance reviews. And while it’s important to acknowledge dissatisfaction with the job, it’s critical to discover the underlying issue influencing a nurse’s decision to leave. After all, you can’t change what you don’t know about.
If both these efforts fail, and you still have Millennials leaving your unit, it’s still possible to attract younger nurses back. Reaching out to employees who left the unit within the past year can be fruitful, especially if you talk about the positive changes you’ve made to the unit. Sparking renewed interest in your organization and re-recruiting Millennial nurses can be as simple as sharing updates that make your facility more attractive and nurse-friendly.