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Quick ideas keep nurses trained, but on the floor


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Sometimes it seems as though the “e” in e-mail could stand for “easy.” With just a few clicks of a mouse, e-mail enables you to send out information to hundreds—even thousands—of your nurses.

But what about those e-mails that get deleted, or worse, sit unread in an in-box? If nurses aren’t reading your e-mails, they’re not getting the information they need to properly do their jobs.

“If we don’t want staff on e-mail while they’re working or don’t allow them to access it from home, then forget it, it’s not working as a communications tool,” says Sandra Bunn, RN, MSN, CRRN, rehab services educator at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Nurses are constantly on the go, and as staffing shortages become more common, it’s more important than ever to keep nurses on the floor providing patient care. That’s why Bunn has developed several quick methods for educating nurses that not only provide the necessary information, but take little time and effort on the part of staff nurses.

At-home learning

Recognizing that in-classroom training sessions aren’t always the right method to help nurses understand a new concept or hone their skills, Bunn has created a take-home module that she uses to keep the staff’s information base sharp. She recently used the module to prepare care staff members for a practical exam on restraints.

“They did a take-home module with a review of the policy and some questions—not just true or false, but multiple choice,” Bunn says. The questions give nurses hypothetical situations in which they have to choose what they would do if faced with the situation in real life. “It gets to the heart of whether they understand the policy and if they understand how to do it,” she says.

Bunn says she often uses take-home modules to help staff members refresh their knowledge before a skills day event, in which they must physically show that they are able to complete a procedure or task. Most recently, she used a module to test their knowledge of restraint practices before they put it to use on skills day.

“When we have skills day, they need to come in with all of these modules completed,” Bunn says. “And if they don’t, they can’t participate in skills day.”

Devising five to 10 questions that will properly assess staff members’ knowledge is the hardest part about implementing an at-home module, Bunn says. “It’s easy to say, ‘Here is the policy and procedure.’ But now we need to make sure they’ve read it and understand it,” she says.

To keep the promise of a quick educational tool, Bunn says the materials provided will usually take 10–15 minutes to read through, followed by 10–15 minutes to answer questions.

“It shouldn’t take them more than 30 minutes to get through the materials and the test,” she says.

Breakroom reading

At the University of Utah Hospital, you’ll sometimes walk into the staff breakroom and find everyone huddled together and working on a four-question quiz about a new piece of equipment or supply.

When Bunn needs to communicate something to her nurses, she’ll often use what she calls “just-in-time” posters. The posters give quick, easy-to-remember pieces of information and are hung next to a tear-off pad. Nurses are expected to tear off a page and use the top as a quick reference until they get used to the new equipment or supply. The bottom half contains questions they must answer and turn in to Bunn to demonstrate that they have read and digested the information.

When a new poster is put up, managers and educators see a response immediately. “They see it right away and respond pretty quickly,” Bunn says, adding that if you put information where staff members usually take breaks, they’ll be more likely to take notice of it. “They don’t have time to stand around reading things, so we put it where they are.”

Each poster usually stays in place for about a month, Bunn says, to make sure that all staff—even per diem, who sometimes are in the hospital only every couple of weeks. “With the per diem staff, it’s always a challenge to get them up to speed,” she says.