Staffing: Overcome Budget Challenges

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Convince leaders that training and education shouldn’t get short shrift.

Training and education are at the forefront of everything we do in patient care. Unfortunately, when it comes to expanding the knowledge and skills of frontline staff, it’s easy for leadership to say, “I’m sorry but we just don’t have room in the budget for that right now.”

Preventing missed opportunities

A traditionally conservative budgetary approach to training and education almost always results in a profoundly missed opportunity for facilities to operate at their full potential. Here’s how to make training and education for all staff a priority on even the tightest budget.

Mix up your offerings. There’s a misconception that the only worthwhile education you can offer is paid education. While there is certainly a fair amount of education — particularly the specialty-specific kind — you’ll need to pay for, there’s an abundance of free information out there if you’re willing to search for it. For instance, the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses, Pfiedler Enterprises and McKesson are just three of the organizations where you can go, and often product vendors offer a wealth of free education as well.

Instead of focusing on where to look or blindly wading through all the offerings out there, start by analyzing your specific departments and administrative areas. Ask staff what they really need or what type of knowledge they’re hungry for. From there, examine how you can mix and match or combine free offerings with paid courses.

I do, however, recommend creating your budget under the assumption that you’re going to pay for the education you offer. That way, if a certain amount of the budget goes unused because you’re able to find enough free information, the funds get rolled over to the education and training budget for future years.

Make it convenient. The best way to prove to leadership that education is a worthwhile investment is to demonstrate how everyone is getting something out of it. In my experience, around 80% of a facility’s staff wants to learn and is eager to expand their skillsets to be prepared for the trends and standards that will dominate the clinical, business or administrative landscape of our industry. You want to focus on the other 20%, the staff who aren’t overly interested or won’t take part in something unless it’s mandatory.

At my facility, we require all staff members to take a certain number of continuing education courses based on their job profiles — whether they like it or not. But here’s the catch: We provide the resources and pay for the education, and staff can take those courses or training at work when they have downtime. There’s also a lot of flexibility in what they can choose. Not all the education must be job-related. For instance, although an instrument technician is required to take certain clinical courses on sterilization or instrument maintenance, they can also take something on stress mitigation or work-life balance if they choose.

Collect data and measure effectiveness accordingly. While you want to make education as easy and enticing as possible for all staff, you need them to take something away from it all. That’s why we ask staff to document one or two takeaway points from whatever course or training they take and bring it to the floor. If staff aren’t documenting what they’ve learned and those best practices aren’t immediately put into practice and executed, then they just learn and forget — the knowledge hangs in the air and dissipates in no time. We also expect staff to bring what they’ve learned to a meeting to share it with their coworkers. Then managers, charge nurses and supervisors can implement the best practices into the workflow and see how they work in the field, monitor, measure and make changes accordingly. The documentation isn’t our version of a Big Brother approach — it’s simply a way for staff to show they’ve learned something practical that can be used in their job and implementing it in real time. After all, leadership wants to see the results of their investment in training and education.

Case in point: One of my instrument techs took a proper sterilizer maintenence and immediately spotted an issue (a leaky valve) that he had been missing because he didn’t know about the intricacies of the equipment. That’s a tangible benefit — preventing a minor problem from becoming an issue that could have taken out a critical piece of equipment — we can trace directly back to the education. There are plenty of examples of real, quantifiable benefits of investing in the training and education of your staff. It’s important, however, not to forget the intangible benefits, as well. My CEO and I took a course on providing unbiased care, and I learned all about preventing disparities among the LGBTQ+ community, a demographic with which I didn’t have much experience prior to the course. That’s invaluable information. To put it into context, if a nurse goes from an adult-only population to a pediatric surgery center, they will receive formal training on how to care for children. That’s the type of training we need to provide equitable care for all the different patients we treat, and why “non-clinical” courses on subjects like unconscious bias will always have a place.

Dismantling the double standard

Continuing education is a must for all staff. Unfortunately, there’s a double standard where training and continuing education is mandatory for certain roles, but not others. We need to empower everybody and arm them with the knowledge and education they need to succeed. As leaders, when you repeat and reiterate this particular philosophy and create an education mindset from the get-go, it becomes a part of your organizational culture, where everybody understands the expectations — and your facility thrives as a result. OSM

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