Impact of nursing unit turnover on patient outcomes in hospitals

J Nurs Scholarsh. 2010 Mar;42(1):40-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1547-5069.2009.01319.x.


Purpose: The aim of this study was to examine how nursing unit turnover affects key workgroup processes and how these processes mediate the impact of nursing turnover on patient outcomes.

Methods: A secondary data analysis was used to test the hypothesized model. This study used registered nurse and patient data from 268 nursing units at 141 hospitals collected as part of the Outcomes Research in Nursing Administration (ORNA II) project. Nursing units provided monthly nursing unit turnover rates for 6 consecutive months, and registered nurses completed questionnaires measuring workgroup processes (group cohesion, relational coordination, and workgroup learning). Patient outcome measures included unit-level average length of patient stay, patient falls, medication errors, and patient satisfaction scores.

Results: Nursing units with moderate levels of turnover were likely to have lower levels of workgroup learning compared to those with no turnover (p<.01). Nursing units with low levels of turnover were likely to have fewer patient falls than nursing units with no turnover (p<.05). Additionally, workgroup cohesion and relational coordination had a positive impact on patient satisfaction (p<.01), and increased workgroup learning led to fewer occurrences of severe medication errors (p<.05).

Conclusions: The findings of this study provide specific information on the operational impact of turnover so as to better design, fund, and implement appropriate intervention strategies to prevent registered nurse exit from nursing units. Further investigation is needed to assess the turnover-outcomes relationship as well as the mediating effect of workgroup processes on this relationship.

Clinical relevance: Managing nursing unit turnover within appropriate levels at the nursing unit is critical to delivering high-quality patient care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Personnel Turnover*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Safety
  • United States