The Magnetizers: A team approach to Magnet®-focused teaching

What do nurses from the emergency department and the psychiatric, telemetry, intensive care, and oncology units have in common? They are the Magnetizers!

Our hospital, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, New York, began its journey toward Magnet Recognition® in 2010, culminating in submission of a 3,500-page document to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). When Magnet® champions from Mather attended an ANCC National Magnet Conference,® they were inspired by a presentation from a team calling itself the Magneteers, and brought the idea of a teaching team back to our hospital. Our chief nursing officer (CNO) felt so strongly about the idea of staff teaching staff that she fought for six direct-care nurses who would dedicate their time exclusively to pursuit of Magnet designation.

“Sell this pencil”

Applications for the teaching team were distributed throughout the hospital, and a panel of Magnet-champion nurses conducted individual interviews. Interview questions were multifaceted and covered Magnet knowledge, job and task prioritization and delegation, and a unique challenge to “sell this pencil.” This caught us off guard. What does selling a pencil have to do with Magnet designation?

As we found out, the question was meant to give us a chance to show our unique personalities and dem-onstrate how creative we could be in our teaching. Our answers were varied and creative: “The pencil has refillable lead and an eraser.” “It’s ergonomically shaped for comfort.” “Guaranteed for life.” “Free shipping.” “Buy one, get one free.”

The panel ended up choosing six direct-care nurses (including the authors). We were taken off the floor for 16 weeks so we could focus on our responsibilities as Magnetizers (the name we took for ourselves). Our responsibilities were to learn everything in Mather’s Magnet document and come up with creative ideas to educate the hospital’s 2,500 employees about the Magnet Recognition Program,® including the Magnet Model components, the purpose and benefits of obtaining Magnet designation, and the history of the Magnet program.

Hitting the ground running

The Magnetizers hit the ground running the first week. We began to form a collaborative team and created the logo “Discover the attraction” to use on posters, stationery, and polo shirts (which became our uniform). We designed and distributed a questionnaire to evaluate the staff’s knowledge of Magnet characteristics and the Magnet program. We brainstormed teaching strategies: Should we use PowerPoint presentations? What about trifold bro¬chures, flipcharts, posters, games, contests, quizzes, photo center pieces, and bookmarks? In the end, we used all of these as promotional tools.


For our trifold brochures, we developed easy-to-understand bullet points and graphics to reinforce our teaching. One of our best, but most time-consuming, ideas was the “Magnet Manual.” This series of 24 pocket-sized cards contained essential information for nurses about our Magnet journey—including “Why we deserve Magnet Recognition,” “Why I work here,” our hospital’s nursing philosophy and professional practice model, and the Magnet Model domains. We had more than 500 manuals made—one for every nurse. Eventually, we had to recruit a multitude of helping hands (secretaries, hospital volunteers, other nursing staff, and even family members) to cut, punch holes, and collate the manuals.

We visited the nursing units to introduce ourselves, taking candy and balloons emblazoned the message “It’s all about you.” Early on, we discovered that candy (particularly chocolate) helped people put on their “listening ears”—so we bought lots of it. We made sure everything we did included the entire staff. We knew that although Magnet is a nursing designation, achieving Magnet designation would require a team effort on the part of the entire hospital staff.

Our Magnet coordinator and CNO supported our efforts, maintaining an open-door policy and setting aside weekly meeting time for our team. We also were able to tap into the knowledge of a similar teaching team from another Magnet hospital.

Facing challenges

One of the challenges we faced was financial—so the local dollar store became our place to shop. We also conserved resources by channeling our teaching through established venues, such as the nursing council newsletter and a cafeteria slide show. Other challenges included a significant change in the organizational pension plan and an unprecedented snowstorm. Maintaining staff engagement under these conditions proved difficult at times, but we remained sensitive to our peers’ mood and needs.

When developing our teaching curriculum, we experienced a steep learning curve. We set an ambitious teaching schedule, which we had to modify frequently to meet the individual calendars for each unit. We tailored our teaching time and techniques to each unit, and soon discovered scheduling was a delicate balancing act. A rapid-response situation could throw off our master schedule.

What’s more, we realized our first PowerPoint presentation to the nursing units, which focused on transformational leadership, was too long. We had to make it more concise, winnowing it down to the most important facts, and we added graphics to illustrate our ideas.

Splitting into teaching teams

For educational sessions with staff, we split into teams of two, with each partner complementing the other’s strengths and weaknesses. We taught day and night, arranging our personal schedules so we’d reach staff from all shifts—not just nurses but secretaries, housekeepers, nursing assistants, maintenance people, and information technology staff. We taught everyone because we wanted all employees to know why our hospital deserved Magnet Recognition and what that meant.

Eventually, we developed confidence and skill in our public presentations, which most of us lacked before this experience. We also learned how to deal with staff members who simply weren’t interested in our message or were resistant to change.

Professional and personal growth

Our 16 weeks as Magnetizers were a time of great professional and personal growth for each of us. Nurses are called on to be leaders and educators, and we functioned as both as we led the hospital on the final leg of its Magnet journey. We learned that goals and schedules are tools to be adjusted to meet the staff needs, that taking the time to teach one person in depth is as important as teaching a room full of people. And we realized we had to meet people in their own space on their own terms for them to really hear our message. (See Five rules of leaders by clicking the PDF icon above.)

Throughout our assignment, we kept our sense of humor and joy. On Valentine’s Day, we distributed heart-decorated candy bags labeled “You are the heart of the hospital.” On Easter, we handed out more than 500 plastic eggs with candy, imprinted with “You are egg-stremely important to us.”

The Magnetizers began as a group of six individuals working together for a common goal. We became a cohesive and effective team by being flexible, collaborating, committing to our goals, communicating openly to give and receive constructive advice, and improving our work continually. In the spring of 2013, our hospital had its Magnet site visit. A few months later, we obtained Magnet Recognition. I guess you could say we really did “sell the pencil.”

Selected reference

Yoder-Wise PS. Leading and Managing in Nursing. 5th ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 2011.

The authors work at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, New York. Lillian A. Donnelly is a staff nurse. Patricia Steiger is a critical care nurse.

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