Still attractive after all these years? Magnet hospitals in a changing health care environment
This paper examines the research base for ‘magnet hospitals’— hospitals that have a good reputation for recruitment and retention of registered nurses. It also assesses the extent to which the concept of the magnet hospital continues to have relevance to nursing in the United Kingdom (UK). The study reviews previous research, examines recent trends in nursing employment, and reports on case studies conducted as fieldwork research. The early research on magnet hospitals, conducted in the 1980s in the United States of America (USA), is reassessed in the light of subsequent cost containment driven changes in the USA nursing labour market and in the organization of USA hospitals. Many of these changes have impacted on nursing staff, with increases in workload, and with changes in skill mix, particularly as a result of increased use of care assistants. Similar developments have been happening in the UK. The paper examines the extent to which the concept of the magnet hospital can retain validity in this changing health care environment. Case studies in 14 USA magnet hospitals were conducted in 1997. The results highlight that, as a result of hospital reorganization and merger, some of these hospitals no longer exhibit core characteristics of ‘magnetism’, whilst others have retained these characteristics despite organizational change. The paper concludes by cautioning that the concept of the magnet hospital continues to have a relevance to the management of nursing resources, but that the research base, with some notable exceptions, continues to be weak and that there is a need for monitoring and a process of re- accreditation to maintain a ‘live’ register of magnet hospitals.