A Closer Look at Achieving a Sustainable Nursing Workforce in Abu Dhabi

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s CNO shares her thoughts

By Ann Williamson, PhD, RN, NEA-BC

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Achieving a robust and sustainable nursing workforce is a necessity for any healthcare organization to thrive in today’s environment. Nurses are the most versatile professionals in healthcare and add significant value across the continuum of care. And, the reality is, there is a growing nursing shortage worldwide.

Following the one-year anniversary of clinical operations at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, our nurse leaders have been looking closely at the strides we’ve made in our first year, and reflecting on the challenges and opportunities in front of us.

A huge priority for us as an organization is to retain and expand our nursing staff as we move into year two of operations and continue to grow our clinical capacity. As a leader in healthcare in the region, we actively contribute to the socio-economic development of the Emirate, and appreciate the opportunity to build a sustainable nursing workforce in Abu Dhabi.

Current snapshot of nursing in UAE

In the UAE, more than 97 percent of nurses are expatriates with a variety of clinical backgrounds and skill levels. The number of nurses per capita is less than many developed countries – 5.2/1,000 population compared to 9.8/1,000 among western countries, according to Statistics Center – Abu Dhabi.

In terms of nursing education, currently, there is one institution of higher learning in Abu Dhabi that offers nursing education curriculum, Fatima College of Health Sciences. FCHS offers a bachelor of science in nursing (BSc) program at three campuses across the Emirate, in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and the western region (a new program that will host its first graduation in 2018). While projected enrollment in the next four years is expected to increase, it will not meet the current demand for nursing in the Emirate.

At the practice level, research studies demonstrate the importance of having a positive work environment – from work rules to staffing ratios and collaboration with other disciplines. Such an environment is key to quality of care, patient satisfaction and nurse retention in hospitals. Currently, the UAE is focused on promoting positive practice environments for nursing.

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Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s role in building a sustainable nursing workforce in Abu Dhabi

Given the challenge in nursing capacity, we are eager to promote the value of a nursing career to the local population and actively develop talent by offering academic programs in nursing to both men and women. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi will collaborate closely with Fatima College of Nursing and other Abu Dhabi stakeholders to advance this agenda.

While we benefit from the broad exposure to global best practices and a diverse workforce, we hope to create a strong standardized base of nursing talent that embodies shared professional and cultural expertise by contributing to in-country training opportunities and access to post-graduate education.

To support this effort, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is fortunate to have a state-of-the art simulation center, which can be utilized to help orient and train our multidisciplinary team as well as support our teaching programs in the future.

At the practice level, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is committed to offering a positive working environment and promoting opportunities for career advancement to its nurses. A positive work environment that recognizes the value nurses bring to healthcare assists in both recruiting and retaining nurses who perform to the best of their ability and at the top of their licenses.

For example, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is testing an innovative nursing role where highly experienced staff nurses are attached to an inpatient team to round twice daily with the covering physician, assist in assimilating data for decision-making and documentation, and ensure efficient follow-up on orders and therapeutics for patients.

Another example is the professional recognition program (PRP) that Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi introduced to reward those clinical caregivers who go “above and beyond” to help us achieve our strategic goals. This program has decreased our annualized voluntary turnover rate from around 11 percent to 3.5 percent.

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Additionally, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi closely monitors and promotes quality by implementing the Cleveland Clinic standard of care, which utilizes international best practices and continuously benchmarks itself against U.S.-based and global peer institutions.

To date, there are no ANCC Magnet®-designated hospitals in the UAE. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi aims to become the first UAE healthcare organization to attain Magnet recognition in two to three years’ time, once we have sufficient outcomes data to support the application process.

Summary of our leadership team’s recommendations to build a sustainable nursing workforce

Nursing Education

  • Encourage investment in public education and media campaigns to highlight the importance of nursing as a profession.
  • Provide exposure to young people on the range of nursing careers available to them, including hospital-based, school-based, industry-based, as well as nursing research, public health, policy, payer or health/tech industry.
  • Encourage stakeholders to build more nursing training programs, post-graduate internships and residencies, taught by doctorate-prepared faculty.
  • Leverage the use of simulation and digital teaching tools to enhance nursing education.
  • Prioritize future training and hiring of nurses with anticipated gaps specific to the Emirate.

Nursing Practice

  • Promote positive and rewarding work environments.
  • Explore part-time work options for women who wish to stay in the workforce while raising a family.
  • Advocate for simplified licensure processes and increase the recognition of advanced practice, education and research roles.
  • Adopt international trends and best practices related to advanced practice to retain talent and promote clinical excellence.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is uniquely positioned to help transform healthcare and promote the nursing profession within our geographic region. The Abu Dhabi team is eager to be a positive force for change and to serve as a role model for the value and meaning of a career in nursing.

Ann Williamson is the Chief Clinical and Nursing Officer of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.