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How Magnet® designation affects nurse retention: An evidence-based research project


As the nursing shortage continues, the need for acute-care facilities to retain registered nurses (RNs) has become overwhelming. Sufficient staffing correlates directly to safer care and better patient outcomes. To increase nurse satisfaction and retention—and rise above the nursing shortage—hospitals should promote a positive work environment and retention. Hospitals that have achieved Magnet Recognition® are known to foster positive work environments.

For the evidence-based project described in this article, the authors reviewed the scholarly literature to determine if a relationship exists between Magnet® designation and nurse retention. We formulated the following PICO question (patient/problem, intervention, comparison, outcome): How does nurse retention in acute-care hospitals with Magnet designation compare to nurse retention in non-Magnet hospitals?

Search and analysis methods

The search method for this critical literature review included a comprehensive search of the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL-Plus with Full Text) and Medical Literature On-Line (MEDLINE) databases, plus a hand search of the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Magnet Research References.

Limiters used in the search included peer reviewed, written in the English language, published between 2003 and 2013, written and published in the United States, and research-based. Database exclusions included articles not pertaining to nurse retention and articles whose title or abstract doesn’t pertain to the PICO question. Exclusion criteria for the hand search included articles older than 2007, title of article and/or abstract lacks relevance to the PICO question, and international studies. On critical appraisal of the resulting seven articles, five were deemed pertinent to the PICO question.


Critical analysis of the literature confirmed that Magnet designation correlates to positive work environments and nurse satisfaction, both of which may influence nurse retention. Our analysis found:

  • a positive work environment that meets the RN’s basic needs can influence nurse satisfaction, which relates to nurse retention support and reimbursement of continuing education
  • and career development decrease a nurse’s intent to leave her or his current position
  • Magnet designation isn’t a requirement for positive effects on an organization’s work environment and nurse satisfaction
  • Magnet facilities can’t afford to become complacent about maintaining a positive
    work environment and nurse satisfaction.

Environmental factors that contribute to a positive work environment and increased nurse satisfaction included:

  • safe, effective patient care
  • good relationships with coworkers and patients
  • opportunity for professional growth
  • overall support for nurses
  • nurse recognition programs
  • strong leadership
  • effective collaboration between nurses and physicians
  • nurse autonomy.

A common feature among Magnet organizations is promotion of employee education, including career-development programs and payment for employees’ continuing education. Organizations with these programs were found to have higher nurse satisfaction rates and less intent to leave.

Also, an organization doesn’t necessarily need Magnet designation to achieve a positive work environment and nurse satisfaction. By incorporating Magnet characteristics, organizations can increase the quality of the workplace environment.

In addition, facilities can’t afford to grow complacent after obtaining Magnet status. Instead,
they should continuously improve the work environment and maintain the overall goals of the
Magnet program to ensure the nursing work environment continues to be positive.

Application of findings

Hospitals can form nursing taskforces to explore positive work environments. Topics of focus may include factors contributing to nurse burnout and turnover, collaboration among healthcare team members, and ways to implement Magnet-like characteristics even if the organization doesn’t have Magnet designation.

Nurse leaders are instrumental in creating healthy work environments and thereby can influence nurse satisfaction. To help retain nurses, leaders should take measures to ensure nurse autonomy, decrease nurse constraints, practice good communication skills, and collaborate as healthcare team members—and encourage staff nurses to do the same. To increase nurses’ intent to stay with an organization, leaders should create recognition programs and support employee education.

Nurse attrition can cause large monetary losses for an organization; replacing a nurse who has left can cost about $64,000. Attrition also leads to loss of nursing mentors and may compromise patient care. Once an organization achieves Magnet designation, it must maintain Magnet principles to ensure nurses stay in their current positions and don’t leave to pursue other employment. Hard work by leaders and nurses to ensure Magnet principles remain in place can save the organization money.

A chief limitation for this evidence-based project was lack of research articles specific to the PICO question: How does nurse retention in acute-care hospitals with Magnet designation compare to nurse retention in non-Magnet hospitals? So the most apparent need for future nursing research in this area is to investigate the influence of an acute-care hospital’s Magnet or non-Magnet designation on nurse retention. Research also is needed to explore how hospitals without Magnet designation can achieve and maintain Magnet-like characteristics. Finally,
research should be done to examine how high nurse retention on particular units can be replicated hospital-wide.

Although nurse retention can be attributed to Magnet-like characteristics, organizations that find the cost of obtaining Magnet designation prohibitive can still achieve Magnet-like characteristics. They should focus on promoting a positive work environment and ensuring nurse satisfaction to retain nursing staff.

Click here for a list of selected references.

Mellisa Renter is a nurse educator at Kaplan University in Omaha, Nebraska. Anna
Allen is a staff nurse in the emergency department at Rapid City Regional Hospital
in Rapid City, South Dakota. Anne Thallas is nurse supervisor of the pulmonary
service line at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Linda Foley
is director of the MSN Program at Nebraska Methodist College in Omaha. (The
evidence-based project described in this article was completed as a capstone project
in the college’s MSN program.)

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