Vidant Health’s Chief Experience Officer, Julie Kennedy Oehlert, D.N.P., R.N., shared her team’s process for creating effective nurse retention strategies with design thinking.
Julie holds a Doctorate of Nursing Practice in Health Innovation and Leadership, and leads Patient Experience, Team Member Experience, and Workplace Wellbeing at Vidant Health.
Vidant Health is an eight hospital system with more than 13,000 employees who serve over 1.4 million people.
The 6 steps of design thinking
Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation anchored in empathy, rapid prototyping, and creative ideas
It’s a process that includes six stages:
- Empathize with your end user, in this case the nurse or the patient
- Define the specific problem you’re trying to solve
- Brainstorm solutions
- Test your solutions on a small scale
- Get feedback and iterate, iterate, iterate
- Scale the solutions that work
Dr. Oehlert shared that, at the beginning of the pandemic, her team had created tranquility rooms for nurses. The issue was, the rooms were too far away for nurses to take advantage of during busy shifts.
With design thinking, she and her team upgraded break rooms instead.
She then enlisted the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to hand out mini spa packages in the break rooms, which gave their trained team the opportunity to check in with nurses impromptu.
Nurses loved the facemasks and lavender scented cotton balls in the spa kits, and EAP was able to identify and support many nurses who needed additional resources.
Feedback and iteration allowed Dr. Oehlert to reach a much higher quality solution that truly met nurses’ needs.
Non-clinical support roles and other creative solutions
Dr. Oehlert’s most impactful wellbeing program is a new set of non-clinical support roles.
These new staff members create better patient experiences and give nurses piece of mind.
A nurse confided in Dr. Oehlert, “I want to get my patients coffee, but I don’t have time. If I know there’s someone to get them coffee, I feel less anxious.”
These Experience Coordinators make rounds and help with non-clinical needs like getting logged into family video calls or connecting with pastoral care.
In terms of design thinking, this new role just finished the testing and iteration phases, and is now being scaled to more care sites.
Career advancement, education, and mentorship
One of the top reasons nurses leave roles is because they want to advance in their careers.
Five out of ten executives on the Vidant leadership team are nurses, and many Vidant nurses hold non-traditional roles, including Dr. Oehlert.
Dr. Oehlert shared that nurses make excellent healthcare leaders because they are resourceful, system thinkers.
“No one gives nurses resources, so any nurse can take a glove and use it for 10 things, whether that’s creating a one-way valve or crushing a pill. Nurses bring that resourcefulness into non-clinical roles.”
She stresses that all leaders can support nursing, regardless of their role.
Compensation and suffering
According to Dr. Oehlert, “compensation is never going to be the whole solution for nurse retention.”
She argues that if a nurse is burnt out and leadership ignores their struggle, eventually that person will demand higher pay.
“People want to be compensated for suffering, but if the only thing that changes is pay, they’re still suffering.”
Compensation is complex and can’t be separated from the quality of a nurse’s lived experience, which is why Dr. Oehlert has such a huge focus on wellbeing at Vidant.
Incredible Health can help
Nurses hired with Incredible Health have a 15% higher retention rate at one year than nurses hired through traditional channels.
Incredible Health flips the script, with hospitals applying to nurses, not the other way around, which allows busy nurses to interview at multiple health systems and complete thorough job searches.
Each nurse gets to leverage Incredible Health’s enhanced screening and matching algorithms—which assess 70+ specialties and 250+ nursing skills—to find the best role for them.
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