Magnet Designation and Nurses
If you have been a nurse for longer than a minute, you’ve heard about Magnet hospitals, but you may not have heard what it actually means for patients and for nurses to be in a Magnet hospital. It’s easy to define a Magnet hospital, but it may not be as easy to decide whether or not a Magnet is the right place for you to hang your stethoscope.
Magnet status is an award given by the American Nurses’ Credentialing Center (ANCC), an affiliate of the American Nurses Association, to hospitals that satisfy a set of criteria that are designed to measure the strength and quality of nursing care. Nationally, only about 6% of hospitals are designated as Magnet hospitals, and the application process is expensive and time-consuming. Plus, hospitals are required to be re-evaluated every four years.
Increasingly, Magnet hospitals receive honors and accolades from a variety of sources. In 2013, 15 of the 18 medical centers on the exclusive US News Best Hospitals in America Honor Roll, and all 10 of the US News Best Children’s Hospital Honor Roll, are ANCC Magnet-recognized organizations. Patients often fare better in Magnet hospitals. Studies show patients have a shorter length of stay and higher satisfaction rates in Magnet hospitals. However, patient outcomes aren’t necessarily always better. An American Journal of Nursing 2011 study by Colleen Goode and colleagues revealed that Magnet hospitals provide better care for pressure ulcers, and did offer a higher quality of care and more innovations in nursing practice than in non-Magnet facilities. However, non-Magnet hospitals performed better in terms of infection control and had fewer cases of post-operative sepsis.
In practical terms, while the application fees run into the tens of thousands of dollars, nurses in Magnet hospitals who do have to have bachelor’s degrees can expect to make more money than their peers in non-Magnet hospitals. Results are mixed, though, about whether nurses have better working conditions in Magnet hospitals than in non-Magnet hospitals. An October 2011 study by Linda Aiken and colleagues found that Magnet hospitals “have better work environments, a more highly educated nursing workforce, superior nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, and higher nurse satisfaction than non- Magnet hospitals.” Conversely, a July/August 2010 study by Alison Trinkoff and Meg Johantgen published in the Journal of Nursing Administration found that magnet hospitals do not have any better working conditions than non-magnet hospitals. In fact, non-Magnet hospitals outperformed in RN staffing, with units having 30 more RN hours per week. (http://www.truthaboutnursing.org/faq/magnet.html#ixzz3m1KC6xp1)
There are those who suggest magnet designation doesn’t go far enough and should require stricter standards in a number of areas. For example, Truth About Nursing founder, Sharon Summers, suggests that hospitals should be made much safer for nurses, and set safety standards by incorporating no lift policies, mercury and latex free environments, and avoiding toxic cleaning supplies.
As with any program, there are its detractors. Nursing forums are full of nurses who argue that Magnet designation is little more than a marketing tool for the hospital, a money-maker for the agency that confers magnet status, and a way to distract nurses by giving them some of the trappings of power and influence through phony committees so they don’t go seeking real power and influence through unionization.
In the end, choosing a hospital simply because of its Magnet designation may not be the best decision, either as a patient or staff member. Regardless of where you work, be sure to ask the tough questions about how the hospital promotes leadership and empowers its nurses.
J Nurs Adm. 2011 Oct; 41(10): 428–433.