How to Engage Time-Poor Nurses

February 12, 2018 By Michlle Girdler

To engage time-poor nurses in education, we need to think outside the box.

Engaging busy nurses is one of the biggest challenges facing nurse educators. We know that nurses will gravitate towards some nurse educators more than others. So how can you become an educator that nurses will seek out? The key lies in how you present the education and how you manufacture a connection between the learners and the content.

Firstly, what doesn’t work?

  • Not addressing current needs: the education that is delivered must be in touch with both current needs in healthcare generally, and also the specific needs of the organisation
  • Lecture-based learning: simply standing and delivering a lecture to a group of passive nurses will quickly result in them disengaging, and thus not taking in important information
  • Death by Powerpoint: Powerpoint can be an effective method of teaching and communication however, presenters will often include too many slides, and these slides are often overloaded with information
  • Free food and drinks: some educators will offer food and drink as an incentive to attend an in-service. However while this is an enticing extra, it won’t convince a nurse to attend your session when they instead need to pick their kids up from school

What happens if you can’t engage your learners?

As nurse educators, we understand that our nurses are our best advertisers, and that capturing the attention of the nurses is the deciding factor as to whether or not we are able to deliver an effective educational program. Not being able to engage nurses in education may result in:

  • Increasing incident reports
  • Decreased morale on the ward
  • Lower attendance numbers
  • Your job could be on the line

Things you can try

At a basic level we know that our sessions need to be as interactive as possible, and that we need to actively engage with our learners. However often this isn’t enough. To truly engage learners, we need to think outside the box. Here are some things that you could try in an attempt to engage nurses and create that connection:

  • Simulation and role play: for many, this is an extremely useful method of organically experiencing, practicing and refreshing situations that may often be encountered on the ward. Scenarios can also be developed in response to situations that your nurses are increasingly encountering on the ward.
  • Make-up:make-up can be used as a part of role play as a way of making a situation and response more realistic for the learner. Educators can use make-up to draw a wound, to mimic a patient’s external symptoms among others.
  • Puppets: puppets can be an effective way to bring learners out of their shell, and work on communication

Studies have shown that learning environments in which students are actively involved and are encouraged to participate and interact result in deeper learning and a deeper understanding of the content (Fallows & Ahmet, 1999).


  1. Fallows, S., & Ahmet, K. (Eds.) 1999, Inspiring Students: Case studies in motivating the learner, London: Kogan Page/Staff and Education Development Association.
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