When it comes to treating behavioral health patients, the nurses and staff make a tremendous difference in the patient experience. Mental health nurses help their patients through some of the most challenging moments of their lives. 

However, there is currently a nursing shortage in the United States — one especially affecting the psychiatric field. Because there is a greater need than ever to attract a qualified, compassionate, and communicative nursing workforce, healthcare leaders need to strategically elevate their recruitment and retention strategies.

What you should know about the nursing workforce

In the United States, there are roughly 4.2 million active registered nurse licenses. Of those, only 4% of licensed RNs work in psychiatric-mental health. The recently published 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey resulted in some insightful findings about the nursing workforce, such as:

  • The median age of RNs in 2020 was 52.
  • More than one-fifth of nurses said they plan to retire over the next five years.
  • Nursing incomes have remained relatively flat over time.

This data points to a few causes of the current nursing shortage that is only expected to get worse.

What causes a nursing shortage?

The current nursing shortage is due to a variety of factors that include an aging workforce nearing retirement, with nursing school enrollment that is not growing fast enough to meet the needs of the nation. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, U.S. nursing schools aren’t able to accept all qualified applicants because the schools lack the proper budgets and faculty to accommodate more students. 

Unfortunately, the nursing shortage is a cyclical problem that fuels itself. Because of the shortage, insufficient staffing causes more stress on nurses, which leads them to feel frustrated with their jobs and leave the field.

In the mental health field especially, turnover rates for nurses are incredibly high. 

The annual turnover rate of behavioral health nurses is roughly 26.5%

Turnover is often attributed to an aging workforce and the challenges that come with working in behavioral health.

However, behavioral health employers need to find ways to support their nursing workforce to overcome these challenges and attract new nurses to the field. Mental health is such an important part of overall health, and employing qualified psychiatric-mental health nurses are critical to delivering the highest level of patient safety and patient care.

How to attract qualified nurses & mental health workers

Behavioral health patients need to be treated by nurses who are compassionate, patient, and understanding. Under these circumstances, patients can stay safe, thrive, and heal. 

Keep reading for some ideas and strategies on attracting new mental health nurses.

Strategies for attracting qualified nurses

  1. Marketing, marketing, marketing

If you don’t have one already, set aside a dedicated marketing budget for recruiting new nurses. Assisting behavioral health patients is remarkably fulfilling. Create recruitment campaigns focused on the career benefits, and launch them through channels that resonate with your target audience. For example, don’t shy away from social media to attract and recruit qualified and passionate millennial nurses. 

  1. Offer competitive wages and benefits

Let’s be clear: Psychiatric nursing is difficult. The pay should always be commensurate. Generous sign-on bonuses can help attract the right nurses to your facility as well. 

  1. Work with nursing schools

Start from the source to ignite a passion for behavioral health among new, incoming nurses. Express the life-changing and life-saving impact mental health nurses can have on their patients. 

  1. Provide clear advancement opportunities

Today’s nurses are more educated than ever — the percent of nurses with a BSN is at an all-time high. Nurses want to grow in their careers to increase their knowledge and earning potential. Attract new, qualified mental health nurses by providing them with clear growth plans and opportunities to advance.

How to retain a qualified mental health nurse workforce

Attracting and recruiting a strong nursing staff isn’t the end-all-be-all. Providing a positive, fulfilling, and supportive workplace environment is required to keep nurses happy and retained. Employers should provide their nursing workforce with benefits and experiences that resonate with them. 

For example, a 2017 survey showed 79% of millennials are considering higher education or more training to increase their salaries. Workplaces that provide tuition reimbursement can help these nurses achieve their goals while staying with their current employer. 

Psychiatric nurses need manageable caseloads to provide their patients with the best possible treatment — they need to be able to spend adequate time with their patients to build trust and strong relationships. If you need more support for your staff, consider supplementing your team with travel nurses to avoid overload.

Nurse Workforce

Empower a positive work culture

Building a strong workplace culture with flexible schedules that facilitates a healthy work-life balance helps nurses de-stress and avoid burnout. Psychiatric nurses are often exposed to difficult patients going through traumatic experiences. Providing your nursing staff with resources to restore and maintain their own mental health can help them fight anxiety, depression, and improve their own wellness. 

Lastly, an important key to retaining psychiatric nurses and preventing burnout is by providing nurses with adequate supervision, training, and guidance. As we’ve addressed, psychiatric nursing is a challenging profession. Strong leadership with an interest in nurses’ wellbeing and future goals will help improve their job satisfaction. Empower nurses to speak up, voice their concerns, and share their ideas. Uplifting them and implementing their suggestions can not only help nurses feel more respected and as a part of the conversation, but it can also help improve your workflows and patient care.

Equip your nursing workforce & mental health workers with the tools they need to succeed

In addition to providing impactful resources and benefits to your nursing workforce and mental health workers, arming your staff with improved technology and tools that help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively can also help improve their quality of work life. 

ObservSMART is one such tool. 

Our compliance technology and patient monitoring system helps improve patient safety. It is a proximity-based system that consists of a Bluetooth-enabled patient wristband synced to staff’s mini iPads that measures if and how patient checks are properly executed. Implementing improved technology can help improve operations and workflows, which can help impact employee job satisfaction. 

If you’d like to learn more about how ObservSMART can help improve patient safety and workforce efficiency, contact us today

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