AONL 2023: Drawing inspiration to fuel the future of nursing

May 23, 2023 |  Health IT, nurses, Events


The themes of this year’s American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) conference were not new–equity, workforce challenges, and evidence-based practice–but there was a palpable sense that now was the time to listen. Following several years of a pandemic, growing violence, and worsening mental health, there is an urgent need for the values championed by nurses. This urgency comes at a time when the healthcare workforce has never been stretched thinner.

The keynote speaker, Sekou Andrews, used his poetic voice to set a positive tone for the event by re-framing the pandemic from an outbreak of illness to an “outbreak of care.” He went on to describe the power of inspiration in expressive detail, with particular emphasis on its cyclic nature. No matter how small the act or belief may be, we all have the chance to inspire others. According to Andrews, to do that day-in and day-out requires us to actively seek our own sources of inspiration.

Over the next several days, nursing leaders discussed ways to better support the nursing workforce so that they can in turn provide safe, inclusive, and impactful care. There were many sources of inspiration throughout the event. These are just a few…

Building an Inclusive Nursing Workforce 

A candid discussion about promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in nursing leadership expanded the perspective to include how bias must be addressed along every step of the nursing professional development continuum. Panelists described a need to ensure equitable access to nurse training and education, and the need to take an active approach to providing career growth opportunities. Staff need to see diversity in their leadership–several panelists described the obstacles they continue to face as they pave their own way as people of color in a nursing leadership position. 

Having a role model and mentor is pivotal for a nurse in any position; it is a significant source of inspiration in a challenging profession. Ena Williams, PhD, MBA, RN, CENP, Senior Vice President & Chief Nursing Officer, Yale New Haven Hospital, poignantly described the pain associated with the concept of otherness in the workplace. Even more important than having a role model is having one who makes it clear you belong. 

A Nursing Mindset “Reset”

Dr. Jeff Doucette, Chief Nursing Officer at Press Ganey, shared insights into how nursing can create a new “roadmap” for the future. Dr. Doucette spoke frankly about workforce issues impacting the profession, from internalized and externalized pressures to the importance of belonging and safety. He described the insidious nature of a just-one-more approach–how answering just one more email, one more call, or asking staff to take on one more shift to ensure sufficient nursing coverage can breed unrealistic expectations from leaders to employees. To foster a healthy workplace environment for staff, nursing leadership must themselves exemplify the ability to disconnect and recharge. 

Dr. Doucette also touched upon the startling increase in violence in the workplace. Staggering data released by Press Ganey in September 2022 showed that “on average, two nurses are assaulted every hour.” The entanglement of medicine in political conflicts, the crescendo of emotions experienced worldwide after an unprecedented several years of socioeconomic and environmental change, and the frustrations of patients and loved ones experiencing delays in and miscommunication about care has added to the complexity of an already challenging profession. Dr. Doucette sets the expectation of a “zero tolerance” work environment, encouraging leaders to establish procedures for identifying and reporting incidents, and make it clear to staff that just like overwork and burnout, this is not just part of the job.

Using Technology to Enhance the Safe Delivery of Care

The concept of virtual nursing has gained momentum as a viable solution for addressing not only workforce issues, but the overall patient experience. A panel discussion including the Chief Nursing Officers/Executives from Providence Health, Trinity Health, and Saint Luke’s Health System walked through approaches to implementing this care and workflow model and shared their experiences with sensitively assessing and responding to stakeholders’ perspectives. The nurse leaders described common use cases for the virtual nurse: completing admission and discharge workflows, patient and family education, care coordination, and hourly rounding. They also encouraged involving IT and informatics departments from the outset, and the potential need to adjust workflows and documentation tasks.

Virtual nursing was an immediate and resounding success in the eyes of nurses new to the profession, who had easy access to a nurse-mentor and experienced a culture of psychological safety wherein they felt comfortable to ask and receive answers on any topic. The panelists cautioned that other nurses may need additional persuasion–though, after time, the benefits of time-savings and enhanced clinical safety become apparent. One panelist reported that some staff specifically asked to be transferred to a unit with a virtual nurse, recognizing the advantage of having supplemental assistance in completing indirect care tasks. 

There were several sessions on operational capacity and patient flow, which go hand-in-hand with optimizing staff scheduling–all areas ripe for the deployment of AI-enhanced workflows to enable organizations to predict patient demand, prioritize patient and staffing needs, and ensure the safe delivery of care.

Holding Values Consistent While Growing with the Times

As the healthcare environment evolves and the needs of the population change, nursing practice must grow and flex in order to ensure the underlying values that make nursing uniquely distinct in its whole-person focus are preserved. Finding inspiration in and choosing to embody these changes will refresh the cycle of inspiration in this caregiving profession. 

Watch our video to see some of the inspiration we have drawn from the MEDITECH Nursing community: “The way that you lead yourself is the same way that you will lead others".

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Written by Alex Brinkert, BSN, RN, MPH, Senior Research Analyst, MEDITECH

Alex Brinkert, BSN, RN, MPH is a Senior Research Analyst in the Marketing Division at MEDITECH. Alex’s background includes 7+ years as a home health nurse, a graduate degree in Public Health concentrating on healthcare policy and administration, and government experience as a former state regulator responsible for the oversight of Assisted Living Residences. Alex shares insights on healthcare industry topics from a variety of perspectives, further enhancing MEDITECH’s well-rounded and in-depth view of the industry, market trends, and end-user needs.