Nursing Professor's Research Examines Factors Affecting Retention

Charleen McNeill
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Charleen McNeill

Nursing practice today is based on scientific evidence; and, when there is a lack of evidence, registered nurses conduct research to generate new knowledge, said Charleen McNeill, a University of Arkansas assistant professor of nursing. She recently published research with colleagues to help a Texas hospital address a nursing retention challenge.

McNeill's article, co-written with three colleagues at the University of Texas at Tyler, where McNeill earned a doctorate in nursing in 2014, is published online by the journal Nursing Ethics. It's titled "Professional Values, Job Satisfaction, Career Development and Intent to Stay."

She said the four nursing educators decided to conduct the research study after learning that a major academic medical center was having difficulty retaining mid-career nurses.

"The medical center leadership sought to explore what their nurse-leaders needed to do to improve retention among their mid-career registered nurses," McNeill said. "Research conducted to address a problem in real time often provides very valuable information. In nursing, we try to focus very much on evidence-based research to address problems we're seeing, everything from infection to nurse retention. In the new health care environment, nurses are expected to change their practice based on evidence."

In a survey of nurses at the hospital, the findings suggested a strong correlation between professional values and career development and that both job satisfaction and career development correlated positively with nurse retention.

"The work culture that leaders create – the environment that nurses are working in – is the most important thing related to retention," McNeill said. "It's very expensive to hire new nurses. When we have good nurses, we want to keep them so we need to understand what's important to keep them."

The paper also discussed intergenerational conflict that may occur because nurses in today's workplace come from four distinct generations.

"Instead of looking at it as conflict, nurse-leaders must leverage the strengths of each generation and determine innovative strategies to empower all nurses," McNeill said. "Younger generation nurses feel like they don't have power over their practice, they're not in charge, and that is logical because they are novice practitioners. However, they bring a knowledge of technology that seasoned nurses may lack. In turn, more experienced nurses support the clinical learning and professional role formation of new nurses. Successful nurse-leaders find ways to garner the strengths of each generation of nurses to achieve the best patient outcomes."

McNeill joined the faculty of the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing in the College of Education and Health Professions in 2014.

"This work represents a great example of a junior faculty member building an interprofessional network to support her scholarship," said Julie Hoff, director of the nursing school.

The research also bolsters McNeill's work as a member of the nursing faculty. The nursing school offers both master's and doctoral degrees in nursing with the coursework offered online through the Global Campus. The nursing degree programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

"We are building a new master's degree in nursing, focused on nurse executive leadership, intended to address shortage of nurse-leaders in this area," McNeill said. "Having more nurses with advanced degrees ultimately improves patient outcomes and nurse retention."

The survey also found that some factors in retention may be out of the employer's control but they need to be investigated deeper, she said. The results suggested that nurses who are the sole financial support for themselves or their families tend to be less satisfied with their jobs than nurses who have additional financial support.

"This financial burden, coupled with the competing demands of life, is considered a non-modifiable risk factor, something that hospitals can't do anything about," McNeill said. "That extra strain on the nurse affects both life satisfaction and job satisfaction, we believe. We need to do more research on that question."


Heidi Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
(479) 575-3138,

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