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Nursing is a varied and demanding profession. Over the past few decades, a nursing shortage has waxed and waned. Currently, we are not experiencing a significant shortage in western Montana. Yet, with an aging population, and an aging work force in nursing, the shortage is expected to return.

In the 1980s, U.S. hospitals experienced a notable nursing shortage. However, during this time, the American Nurses Association noticed not all hospitals had this problem. Why was this? A handful of hospitals not only didn't have a shortage, but had nurses waiting to be hired. It found these hospitals sought more nursing input into clinical decisions, had a more respectful climate for nurses and had better support and ongoing education for nurses. It also found these hospitals had better patient outcomes, including lower infection rates and fewer hospital errors.

The ANA identified these as "Magnet" hospitals because they attracted nurses. Out of that, the Magnet Recognition Program arose from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, ( The first hospital in the nation to receive this recognition was the University of Washington in Seattle. Currently there are more than 350 hospitals in the U.S. with this designation, or about 6 percent.

Recognition is based on the work nursing does to transform and support hospital staff in order to reach excellent outcomes. And, it looks at patient outcomes linked specifically to nursing care.

Recognition also considers how nurses cultivate and support self-government. Shared governance is an approach to autonomous nursing practice. With shared governance, direct care nurses and nurse leaders meet regularly to decide and plan how nursing will meet its goals. Nurses who are giving care at the bedside have direct input into policies, clinical and practice decisions. In this way nurses often achieve higher staff satisfaction rates than if they didn't have this input.

Another aspect of a Magnet hospital is professional development. This is planning for and supporting ongoing nursing education. Not only because education is crucial to keeping up with the demands of the profession, but also because it yields more satisfied nurses. Similarly, leadership development, community involvement and involvement in professional organizations are all valued.

Magnet hospitals also value interdisciplinary teamwork. Communicating well across the lines of different disciplines is key to having good outcomes for patients. Nurses work with pharmacists, physical therapists, physicians, respiratory therapists and others. Enhancing the input of all professional groups means fewer details are missed, more thorough thought and care is given and patients benefit.

Magnet hospitals are all about outcomes. But at the same time, Magnet hospitals are really about the spirit of nursing. Nurses at Magnet hospitals tell stories about working with patients, working with other staff, making an impact, learning what they didn't learn in school, and understanding why nursing is truly meaningful to them.

When valued by themselves and others, nurses often have more energy to put into creating better patient care. That after all, is why most nurses are nurses, and why nursing is the valuable profession it is.

Beth Schenk, RN, MHI, is facilitator of women's health at St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center.


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