For Nurses Suffering from Burnout, Education Might Be the Best Medicine

For Nurses Suffering from Burnout, Education Might Be the Best Medicine
AP Photo/The Day, Dana Jensen

Burnout is rearing its ugly head on the healthcare industry. Nearly half of nurses report feeling overwhelming stress on a weekly basis, and just as many are considering leaving their jobs. Nursing turnover has reached its highest point 
in a decade — costing the average hospital as much as $6.9 million per year. With the country already facing a nursing shortage, medical providers cannot afford to lose the talented and capable nurses they already have.

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As a result, hospitals and other employers are re-doubling efforts to attract and retain nurses. And they’re finding that providing nurses with meaningful support for their continuing education can be one of the most effective ways to do this. The shift from being an Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing not only holds the promise of increased salary but may also lead to improved job security. Most importantly, research indicates that higher levels of nurse education are associated with better patient outcomes, including lower mortality rates. These real-world impacts provide powerful incentives for nurses to keep learning and employers to keep encouraging them.

It’s should be no surprise then that nurses are demanding more access to education. Research from Bright Horizons shows that more than 80% of nurses say they would prefer to or only accept a job at a company that offered an education program or tuition reimbursement — and six in 10 nurses would prefer an employer that offered student loan repayment. For many nurses, whether or not employers provide such benefits is a deal-breaker. About one-quarter of nurses would leave their current employer if the employer didn’t provide support for their ongoing education.

Education opportunities may even directly help employers address the growing epidemic of nurse burnout. Nearly 40% of nurses say that employers can help them mitigate stress by offering resources to support their education. Weighed down by mounting student debt, nurses highly value this kind of help from their employers — even ranking student loan repayment over parental leave as a preferred benefit.

This healthcare trend mirrors a shift in the broader labor market: more than half of all working adults believe it is necessary to have ongoing training throughout their careers and lives and, according to LinkedIn Learning, 93% of workers say they would stay longer with a company or organization that helps them receive that education. Nearly three-quarters of workers who participate in tuition assistance programs rank those programs among the best benefits their employers offer.

Millennials are especially likely to rate support for professional growth and development as important aspects of what they want in a job. In a Bright Horizons survey of nurses, about 70% of millennials said support for furthering their education was somewhat or very important, compared to just over 50% of boomers. Nearly three-quarters of millennial nurses said opportunities for advancement were somewhat or very important — a higher percentage than either boomers or members of Generation X.

In the healthcare context, this can take the form of employers paying for further education upfront, making a supplemental contribution to their nurses’ student loan debt, or guiding nurses within non-profit hospitals to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. A growing body of evidence points to the retention benefits of these sorts of investments. In 2015, healthcare giant Aetna began paying up to $5,000 per year, up-front, to cover each employee’s education costs. Since then, thousands of employees have participated in the program, enabling them to earn promotion 27% faster. Additionally, there has been an eight percent retention gain among tuition assistance participants.

Memorial Hermann Health System, which owns 15 hospitals in the Houston area, began offering student loan repayment in 2015 in an effort to attract and retain nurses. The program has since led retention rates among nurses increasing from about 70% to 95%.

Despite the many stressors that come with the profession, most nurses love their jobs. Despite record burnout rates, three-quarters of nurses say they would still recommend their profession to a friend. It’s up to employers to ensure nurses are receiving the support and benefits they need to focus on serving their patients and their communities. For many of today’s passionate, but stressed-out, nurses, employer-supported education may be the answer.

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