The Health Management Academy

3 Insights from AONL 2023: Takeaways for Nurse Leaders


The Health Management Academy attended the American Organization for Nursing Leadership’s (AONL) annual conference. Here are key takeaways for nurse leaders.

It’s becoming more common for certain key issues to rise to prominence, impacting every health care executive. Given the nationwide spike in nursing turnover and associated increase in labor costs, stabilizing the nursing workforce is a unifying priority across the C-suite.

This strength of purpose was of the many reasons The Health Management Academy asked Nursing Catalyst Director, Lauren Rewers, to attend the American Organization for Nursing Leadership’s (AONL) annual conference this May. Nurse leaders have many ideas about how to address today’s shortages—and they also have a vision to transform nursing care delivery wholesale.

1. The pandemic rightsized nurse compensation—which is only a small piece of the retention pie.

For nurses, the pandemic demonstrated their value and provided the opportunity to demand  long-needed raises. While these increases in baseline pay, benefits, and overtime contributed to the spikes in labor costs, it’s clear that they aren’t (and shouldn’t) go away. Yet, these compensation adjustments aren’t always translating to retention. Now, nurse leaders need to re-evaluate what actually matters when it comes to retaining nurses—including reassessing the impact of “classic” retention strategies and measuring the impact of staffing model innovation on workforce outcomes.

Takeaways for Nurse Leaders:

  • Market competitive compensation and well-executed classic retention strategies are non-negotiable and considered the bare minimum when it comes to RN retention.
  • To measurably decrease turnover, leaders need to change how care is delivered: embracing innovative staffing models (including virtual nursing), decreasing administrative burden, and addressing workplace violence head-on.

2. Nurse leaders believe that virtual nursing works—but it’s not clear if it will become the default inpatient care model.

Nurse leader discussions coupled with the impressive array of technology solutions demonstrate the clear potential of AI, automation, and telemedicine to radically change nursing care delivery. This is especially true for virtual inpatient care models, which have consistently demonstrated improvements in engagement and patient outcomes across several pilots. Yet, it still isn’t evident that virtual nursing will become the norm for inpatient care. The clear-cut ROI expected for a capital investment of this size is inherently at odds with experimental technology, and it will require great courage from the C-suite to make it a reality.

Takeaways for Nurse Leaders:

  • Early VRN pilot outcomes point to incredible workforce outcomes (satisfaction, engagement, and retention) but limited impact on labor costs.
  • Scaling VRN marks an opportunity to re-think pilot goals and cost structure before expansion and solidify C-suite buy-in around workforce outcomes and downstream savings.

3. The next staffing crisis will be frontline managers.

Significant attention to date has focused on clinical staffing gaps, given the clear impact they have on quality of care, access, and cost. But bedside nurses aren’t the only ones at risk of burnout and turnover. Frontline nurse leaders are also a high-risk group, given the trauma they endured during the pandemic and their ever-increasing workloads. Rightfully called the “lynchpins of the health system,” nurse managers serve as both everyday firefighters and primary implementors of organizational strategy—and it’s imperative that organizations prevent the exodus before the impact of nurse staffing implications are fully realized.

Takeaways for Nurse Leaders:

  • We know nurse managers are critical in driving unit, patient, and staff outcomes. But in today’s environment, they also make or break innovation at the bedside.
  • Investing in nurse manager engagement and development is essential.

How Nursing Catalyst Can Help

This year’s AONL conference demonstrated two things: the transformative vision nurse leaders have for care delivery, and the urgency required of the healthcare industry to respond with impactful solutions.

These are the types of conversations and solutions discussed in The Health Management Academy’s Nursing Catalyst program, which accelerates innovation by supporting nurse leaders as they pilot tests of change in their own units, and by providing executive-level research and idea-sharing to develop disruptive solutions to nursing enterprise challenges. Our members are experiencing success in implementation – isn’t it time for a different solution in your health system?

To find out more about Nursing Catalyst, contact Lauren Rewers, Director of Nursing Catalyst at