Nurse Retention Rate Soars With Peacekeeping Skills Learned From Fighter Pilots

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After implementing aviation-based teamwork and communication skills taught by LifeWings Partners LLC, a Memphis, TN group of pilots and physicians, one hospital improved its problematic nursing staff retention rate by greater than 30%.

A recent survey of hospitals revealed one reason for the nation’s nursing shortage is that nurses are fed up with the poor teamwork and disruptive behavior they experience with physicians. To fight this growing trend and deal with their low rate of nurse retention, one pro-active hospital turned to former fighter pilots for their expertise in teamwork and effective communication under stress.

The hospital, an academic health center located in the mid-west, contracted with LifeWings Partners LLC to provide customized, on-site training to its staff to improve doctor-nurse communication in one of its Intensive Care Units (ICU). Communication between physicians and nurses was strained and the frequency of patient harming errors and “near-misses” was increasing. The ICU suffered from high nurse turnover thought to be caused by the tense work environment. LifeWings trained the staff how to communicate with more precision, especially when under stress. The training worked. Patient care improved, and as an added bonus, the hospital experienced a greater than 30% decrease in nurse turnover.

Shoddy treatment by doctors has long been thought to be a major reason why nurses quit. But a recent survey of 500 hospitals conducted to uncover more information on the causes of the nation’s nursing shortage revealed startling information.    

Respondents were asked if they had been involved in an event where a patient had been harmed by a communication error. Almost 80% of those who answered “Yes,” said the patient-harming error had occurred due to disruptive behavior and poor communication between nurses and physicians.

The survey findings, as reported in a HealthLeaders article, confirm that the LifeWings training is on target.

The LifeWings approach is based on the principle that skills used to improve communication and save lives in the air can improve communication and save lives in healthcare. In an airplane cockpit, everyone has a voice and is deemed a valuable resource with important information. When a critical decision point is reached, flight crews are taught how to effectively communicate that information to make the safest decision.

In the medical environment, a more dictatorial approach has been the norm but the LifeWings methodology successfully changes that culture. According to Steve Harden, President of LifeWings, “Our training equips team leaders, most often physicians, with the skills to get the participation of their team while also keeping their leadership responsibility.” The resulting environment leads to less disruptive communication and higher staff retention, and ultimately, safer patients who receive better care. Says Harden, “We find that teams who work well together tend to stay together.”

Dr. Rhea Seddon, Assistant Chief Medical Officer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center agrees. “We use the LifeWings system in our hospital, and our employee satisfaction surveys show that our staff members who have been to the training and use the communication protocols are significantly more satisfied with many aspects of their jobs than those who haven’t had the training. The training system works.”

About LifeWings Partners LLC

LifeWings Partners LLC was founded by a former U.S. Navy Top Gun instructor and commercial airline pilot. The firm specializes in applying aviation-based teamwork training and safety tools to help healthcare facilities save patient lives and reduce costs. The firm has helped more than 40 facilities nationwide provide better care to their patients. Measurable results are found in many LifeWings initiatives including one hospital that improved its surgical error rate to better than10 times the national average. The firm also conducts Leadership Development workshops for healthcare executives and leaders.


Steve Harden, President, LifeWings Partners LLC


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