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Stories as motivators.

MARY LODES, chief nurse executive, Waukesha Memorial Hospital/ProHealth Care (WMH/ProHealth), always believed in the power of stories. During her tenure at WMH, she has introduced the art of storytelling in many venues. In the March 27, 2006 issue of Talking Rounds, the nursing department newsletter, Mary wrote about the seasonal fascination of "March Madness: The Power of Team." In the column, she repeated a story from Fred Rogers's posthumous book Life's Journeys According to Mr. Rogers: Things to Remember along the Way. The story relates an incident from the Special Olympics of nine participants who were all physically or mentally disabled. One participant fell at the start of a race and began to cry. After a moment, the rest of the participants turned around and went to the one who fell. Together they linked arms and walked to the finish line. Everyone stood and cheered. "Because deep down we know what matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then." This story helped the chief nurse executive make the point of the value of team at WMH/ProHealth. Lodes wrote: "A simple acknowledgment of each other should be a daily ritual. It raises morale, spirits, and brightens the day." These reminders, no matter how small, also impact retention.

Other places where stories are heard are the monthly clinical leadership meetings. Here the stories may be about leaders who attend the meeting. This gives an opportunity to recognize leaders and leadership and demonstrate the value of working together--another way to address retention.

Starting Off with a Story

Mary, as a member of the community-based WMH Foundation Board, tells a story at the beginning of each meeting. She tries to coordinate the story with the speaker for the meeting. Or she may relate a patient experience or an event from their vast array of community outreach programs, such as the 14 parish nursing programs, school programs, shelters, resource centers, food pantries, and screening programs. This practice is valued by the board in part because it demonstrates the impact of WMH/ProHealth in the community and demonstrates the return of a healthy community on the investment of resources in the community. Recruitment of nurses, allied health personnel, and physicians is also enhanced with WMH/ProHealth being so well-known in the community.

It is expected that every unit meeting in the organization begin with a patient story. There are many stories that are available from cards and letters sent in by patients and families. Sometimes the story is about the unit personnel working together and is inspirational to the staff. Often the story is right before us, but if we are not in the habit of looking for stories and examples, we miss the opportunity to bring it to the attention of others.

Building a Storytelling Culture

Staff in the organization know storytelling is part of the culture. Staff are encouraged to submit their stories for different events; for example, stories are used as part of the gala celebrating Nurses Week in May.

During performance reviews, staff are required to submit their stories. The stories submitted by staff prior to their performance review describe their practice. The stories are separate from the evaluation and are discussed with staff by an advanced practice nurse (APN), not the person doing their evaluation. The APNs are piloting and testing the use of reflective stories. They use them as data for education and research and the stories are an opportunity for growth for the staff. The APNs specifically are trying to understand where nurses are in their practice as described by Benner (1984) through the stories they write. It is expected that the breadth of staff nurse practice will match the descriptors of the novice to expert nurse (Benner, 1984). A secondary outcome is that staff will value their practice as they tell their stories, gaining insight into their impact on patient care and to the contribution they make in the organization.

One final use of the stories at WMH/ProHealth was with a major marketing campaign. The focus of the campaign was "reasons to live" and the campaign used stories of patient experiences and their quest for a healthy life. This again was successful in recruitment, not only of staff but also patients.

A Motivator

As an organization like WMH/ProHealth integrates storytelling into their culture (the CEO also uses storytelling, setting an example for the organization), they realize a secondary gain of teaching staff how to put together narratives. Narratives are a requirement for organizations who submit documentation to the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Recognition Program[R] (2005). Stories are a basis for narratives, and since the staff have experienced writing and telling their stories, they are more likely to write narratives about their practice and the daily impact they have on patient care.

WMH/ProHealth has demonstrated that stories are a useful tool to express the voice of the patient and the voice of practice. They help staff to get in touch with their practice and are a way to teach, inspire, persuade, and share information. Most of all, they are a motivator and help staff to understand why they are important--a big factor in retention.


American Nurses Association (ANA). (2005). The Magnet recognition program: Application manual. Washington, DC: Author.

Benner, P. (1984). From novice to expert: Excellence and power in clinical nursing practice. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Nursing Division.

SUEELLEN PINKERTON, PhD, RN, FAAN, is an Independent Consultant. Indialantic, FL; and a Nursing Economics Editorial Board Member. Comments and suggestions regarding this column can be sent to
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Title Annotation:Retention and Recruitment; Waukesha Memorial Hospital's Mary Lodes
Author:Pinkerton, SueEllen
Publication:Nursing Economics
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2006
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