Supporting Nurses Under Pressure

School of Nursing tests mental health interventions for frontline workers

With 84 percent of nurses reporting feelings of burnout arising from long hours, poor staffing ratios, emotional exhaustion, inadequate support from leadership, and more, the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden has been charged with improving nurse retention by participating in a highly selective national pilot program. Designed by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and funded by a $10,000 Johnson & Johnson grant, the pilot program gives senior nursing students in the accelerated bachelor of science nursing program access to a cutting-edge curriculum designed to cultivate resilience and leadership skills in future nurses.

Feelings of Burnout Among Nurses

“As rates of depression, anxiety, and stress continue to skyrocket, I believe these mental health interventions will define the future of nursing education,” said Marie O’Toole, dean of the School of Nursing–Camden. “We are proud to be recognized as an innovator in contemporary nursing education.”

The School of Nursing–Camden was among 10 nursing schools selected from a competitive pool of 122 applicants through a blind screening process that assessed their diversity, strength of programs, and track record of executing successful mental health initiatives. Guided by AACN’s “The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education,” and under the direction of principal investigator and assistant professor Catherine Stubin, School of Nursing–Camden faculty are incorporating mindfulness-based stress reduction strategies, self-care practices, communication skills, problem-solving skills, study skills, life coaching, mentoring, and peer support training into this semester’s curriculum.

“It is groundbreaking,” says principal investigator and assistant professor Catherine Stubin. “Nursing can be a physically and emotionally demanding profession. We are excited to equip a generation of nurses with the self-care practices and healthy behaviors to protect their own well-being, so they can better care for others.”

Principal investigator and assistant professor Catherine Stubin

Principal investigator and assistant professor Catherine Stubin

Stubin said this initiative comes at a critical moment as the country experiences a historic shortage of nursing staff and educators, made worse by a pandemic that has disproportionately affected frontline health workers. Stubin has cultivated a robust body of research investigating determinants of happiness and longevity in the field. A study she conducted in 2022 found a positive correlation between supportive faculty behaviors (such as listening to students, being approachable, communicating openly, and demonstrating flexibility and patience) and students’ mental health.

“Research has shown that our new graduates need to think about their personal health to prevent burnout and thrive in the nursing profession,” Stubin said.  “When nursing students’ stress levels increase, their grades decrease, making them more likely to switch majors. For those who do make it through nursing school, chronic stress among nurses can affect their job performance and quality of client care. This tells us that these interventions are not just nice to have, but essential to cultivating a sustainable nursing workforce.”

In another recent study, Stubin found that new graduate nurses are not always prepared for the challenges of the chaotic clinical environment or to exercise leadership skills in a clinical capacity. She believes that fostering these skills early on will prepare nursing graduates to make sound decisions in a challenging, unpredictable healthcare environment.

AACN launched this initiative with the goal of infusing new, resilience-building content into baccalaureate nursing programs across the country. Resources created through this program will be incorporated into the AACN Essentials Implementation Tool Kit and disseminated to all United States schools of nursing. Stubin said she is excited to share their lessons learned and lead change on a national level.

“Mental health in nursing is my passion,” said Stubin. “This grant recognizes our pioneering work and provides us with the support we need to build a more resilient nursing culture.”

Creative Design: Beatris Santos

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