News & Events

Maryland nurse researcher debunks Magnet hospital designation

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
September 2010 Edition

By Mary Crotty
Associate Director, Health & Safety

New nursing research found no significant differences in hours worked, nursing practice environment, physical demands placed on nurses or in perceived patient safety between Magnet-hospital nurses and non- Magnet nurses. On all three of these critical indicators of hospital and patient safety, there was no advantage to being a Magnet hospital, according to the study by a University of Maryland nursing professor.

Interestingly, Magnet hospital nurses were less likely to self-report mandatory overtime and physical demands, yet in reality the hours worked and the actual physical demands found by the study were nearly identical for Magnet and non-Magnet nurses. Perhaps nurses working in Magnet hospitals think that the Magnet designation is giving them benefits that other nurses don’t have, but this research finds that not to be the case.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) recognizes 348 health care organizations in the U.S. and four internationally as “Magnet.” The designation evolved several decades ago as a strategy to decrease nursing turnover and aid hospitals in retaining nurses though supposedly more supportive work environments. Magnet certification has been a lucrative product for the ANCC (a subsidiary of the ANA) over the years. There currently are seven Magnet hospitals in Massachusetts:

Hospital City Year Recognized
Baystate Medical Center Springfield 2005
Children’s Hospital Boston 2008
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Boston 2005
Lahey Clinic Burlington 2009
Massachusetts General Hospital Boston 2003
South Shore Hospital Weymouth 2009
Winchester Hospital Winchester 2003

The fact that South Shore Hospital was Magnet designated last year is sufficient to illustrate the meaninglessness of the label. South Shore is host to very serious problems of understaffing, long waits, dangerous conditions for patients, nurse turnover and dissatisfaction.

Professor Alison Trinkoff of the University of Maryland School of Nursing and colleagues conducted the research using data from the Nurses Worklife and Health Study (Trinkoff, 2006)*, with responses from 837 nurses working in 14 Magnet and 157 non-Magnet facilities across the country. The study was published in the July/August issue of JONA (Journal of Nursing Administration). The research was partly funded by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the trade association for state boards of nursing, which is generally aligned with industry (hospitals and their state associations) in attitudes and policies, so there is almost certainly no research bias at work for the study authors.

*The “Nurses Work life and Health Study” (Trinkoff, et al., 2006), a longitudinal study of 2,273 registered nurse respondents, found that 17 percent of staff nurses, 4 percent of managers and 7 percent of advanced practice registered nurses regularly exceeded the IOM’s recommendation that:

“To reduce error-producing fatigue, state regulatory bodies should prohibit nursing staff from providing patient care in any combination of scheduled shifts, mandatory overtime, or voluntary overtime in excess of 12 hours in any given 24-hour period and in excess of 60 hours per 7-day period” (IOM, 2004).