New Study Shows Millennial Nurses Struggle to Connect with Patients

We tend to think of millennials as overly dependent on digital technology, preferring to send a text instead of having an in-person conversation.

New research shows that these trends may be affecting millennial nurses and their ability to connect with patients.

Heather Caramanzana, PhD, RN-BC, CRRN, nurse manager, brain injury unit and rehab at Northwell Health’s Glen Cove Hospital in New York, recently shadowed 12 of her younger colleagues with at least two years’ hospital work experience in New York City and Long Island, only to discover that most of them were having trouble seeing themselves as nurses and many were considering leaving the field altogether.

With the country in the middle of a widespread nursing shortage, millennial nurses will play an increasingly important role in the years to come. Millennials now make up 35% of the U.S. workforce, and studies show millennial nurses are more likely to find a new place of employment than their older colleagues. However, they also seem to view their profession differently than previous generations.

Find out what it takes to keep millennial nurses engaged with their profession.

Millennial Nurses Struggling to Connect

According to Heather Caramanzana’s research, millennial nurses reported feeling an “emptiness” as they carried out routine tasks. The more these nurses failed to connect with patients, they more they questioned whether nursing was the right field for them.

Failing to connect with patients also led to feelings of guilt and shame among millennial nurses. As Caramanzana writes, “It weighed heavily on them. I know that’s when they felt really overwhelmed in their assignments because, for them, it’s like caring is a separate thing. They don’t realize they can incorporate it when they are doing all their technical tasks.”

Another takeaway from Caramanzana’s research was that millennial nurses often felt uncomfortable initiating conversations with patients whom they saw as “strangers.” Younger nurses also saw time as an issue when trying to connect with patients, with many having felt pressure to move onto the next task. These nurses also wanted more immediate feedback on how they could improve in the workplace.

How to Keep Millennial Nurses Engaged at Work

In order to improve retention rates and encourage more millennial nurses to stick with the profession, Caramanzana suggests that nurse managers and more experienced nurses should offer additional education on communication and connection with patients. She talks about showing millennial nurses how they can engage with patients as they go about completing routine tasks, such as asking about a patient’s family or loved ones, looking at the pictures on their bedside table, and making more eye contact during these exchanges instead of staring at a screen.

According to the 2017 Survey of Registered Nurses conducted by AMN Healthcare, millennials are more likely than their older RN counterparts to consider seeking new employment. The results also show millennial nurses are more likely to consider a career in travel nursing than older nurses. They also expressed more of a desire to become nurse practitioners in the future. Along with Generation Xers, millennial nurses are also more interested in obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree than their older counterparts. More than a third of millennial nurses (36%) also expressed an interest in taking on leadership roles.

Based on these findings, millennial nurses seem to desire professional development and upward mobility. A lack of these opportunities could result in more millennial nurses looking for a career change or relocating to a new facility. If nursing managers and facilities want to increase their millennial nurse retention rates, they should focus on helping younger nurses connect with their patients while encouraging them to pursue new opportunities such as going back to school and taking on leadership roles.

The healthcare community needs to keep younger generations engaged if it’s going to keep up with patient demand, especially as more baby boomers get ready to retire. Keep these ideas in mind when engaging with millennial nurses.

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