Profiles in Nursing

Mabel A. Wandelt the Magnet Hospitals

Leader of the “leavers and stayers” study

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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Mabel Wandelt’s best-known work is the “leavers and stayers” study. She did not do it alone or without institutional support, but she supervised the collection and analysis of data and prepared the basic report. And when the American Nurses Credentialing Center awarded its Magnet Prize for innovations that transform work environments, Wandelt was one of four mentioned as part of the American Academy of Nursing team.

The landmark study, known as Magnet Hospitals: Attraction and Retention of Professional Nurses, grew out of a singular observation by Wandelt. When she was collecting data for the turnover of staff nurses in Texas hospitals, she noted that one hospital was experiencing recruitment and retention problems, and another in the same neighborhood was not.

A curious researcher would not overlook this puzzle, and it was just the kind of problem that Wandelt addressed head on as, “… an irritation or felt need that nurses experienced in their real life practice settings." Eventually, she and others persuaded the AAN to conduct a nationwide study of hospital work environments that attracted and retained nurses, and fourteen characteristics, known as the Forces of Magnetism, were formed to distinguish such institutions. Now, many years later, the Magnet Recognition Program serves both as a standard to recognize health care organizations that foster nursing excellence and as a way to spread knowledge of successful nursing practices.

But staffing and retention were not the only subjects dear to Wandelt’s heart. After graduating from Michael Reese Hospital in 1938, she worked in general hospitals and sanatoria with tuberculosis patients. As she watched treatment evolve over time, she came to believe the role of nurses was critical to patient education. Whether treatment involved prolonged bed rest or months of meticulous medication compliance, Wandelt believed that the encouragement and education provided by the nurse was critical to success.

Her work in public health raised many questions that she sensed called for scientific investigation. The completion of her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1954 led to an offer to teach, and it was at Wayne State University that she wrote her first book, A Guide for the Beginning Researcher. During her 15 years there, she also collaborated with Doris Slater to develop the Slater Scale and the Quality Patient Care Scale. These tools, now eclipsed by newer methodologies, formed the basis of instruments used today to measure nursing competencies. While still at Wayne State, she also helped establish one of the first nursing research centers in the country. Later, she served as an assistant dean at the University of Delaware.

Wandelt ended her career at the University of Texas at Austin where she served as the director of the Center for Health Care Research and Evaluation. In 1997, the American Academy of Nurses recognized her as a “living legend,” a nurse who served as a role model to all and whose contributions had a significant impact on the delivery of health care in the United States. Wandelt passed away on Nov. 20, 2008.  

The 14 Forces of Magnetism

1. Quality Nursing Leadership
2. Organizational Structure
3. Management Style
4. Personnel Policies & Programs
5. Professional Models of Care
6. Quality of Care
7. Quality Improvement
8. Consultation & Resources
9. Autonomy
10. Community & the Hospitals
11. Nurses as Teachers
12. Image of Nursing
13. Interdisciplinary Relationships
14. Professional Development

Elizabeth Hanink, RN, PHN, BSN, is a freelance writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

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