Mitigating Knowledge Loss

A Strategic Imperative for Nurse Leaders

Top nurse leaders say that training programs for new nurses do not account for the insights and perspectives of experienced nurses approaching retirement. There is shared concern that the incoming workforce is not developing the ability to "think critically."

This article addresses the issue of knowledge loss within the nursing workforce. The authors summarize previous research that distinguishes skill-based knowing from experiential knowledge. They emphasize the consequences of knowledge loss for health care organizations and patients. An extensive survey enlisted the opinions of nurses at over 40 preeminent hospitals. Respondents provided their observations of organizational staff development practices.

Key Findings:

  • Unpracticed nurses are often unable to approach clinical issues in the context of broader outcomes.
  • Knowledge transfer, the passing on of deep insights and perspectives from older to less experienced nurses, is a neglected leadership issue.
  • Health care organizations should act to revitalize and expand knowledge capacity.

Training programs for new nurses, even in leading hospitals, are often limited to basic skill and competency-oriented programs. Senior nurses possess "deep smarts," an ingrained, intuitive knowledge, that underlies basic skills. If, as older nurses retire, health care organizations cannot retain this type of knowledge in their workforce, patient outcomes will likely suffer.