The Power of Self-Determination Theory in Healthcare

Effective healthcare leadership should address the challenges nursing staff faces. Here’s how using the Self-Determination framework can help.

You most likely know we’re facing a nursing shortage. From 2020 to 2021, we’ve seen the most significant drop in Registered Nurses in forty years. 

Many nurses leave their jobs due to retirement or major life events, but an increasing number of young nurses are also quitting. With half of the registered nurses in the US over 50 and approaching retirement, what can be done to retain younger nurses who are leaving due to dissatisfaction or burnout?

Immersyve has helped countless healthcare organizations answer this question. Our programs have improved nurse burnout by 83% and decreased turnover by 34%. Using Self-Determination Theory as a framework for our solutions, we help healthcare institutions improve retention and workforce well-being. 

What is Self-Determination Theory? 

Self-determination theory (SDT) is a powerful framework that delves into the core psychological experiences that boost engagement, intrinsic motivation, and overall well-being.

Developed by psychologists and Immersyve Health partners Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, SDT emphasizes three innate psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness, as key components of human motivation.

According to Self-Determination Theory, these needs should be met for optimal functioning, well-being, and personal growth.

Self-determination theory in healthcare promotes motivation, engagement, and satisfaction among nursing staff, decreasing burnout and turnover.

How Does Self-Determination Theory Relate to Healthcare? 

Self-determination theory offers practical, science-backed applications to increase staff engagement and well-being in healthcare settings. By addressing the psychological needs of their staff, healthcare organizations can support optimal health outcomes and enhance retention.

Related Post: Boosting Nurse Retention: Proven Strategies to Create a Thriving Nursing Staff

How Self-Determination Theory Can Be Applied in Healthcare Settings: 

  1. Autonomy in Scheduling: Empower nurses by offering autonomy in scheduling. Providing options for self-scheduling or flexible work hours gives nurses greater control over their work-life balance, enhancing job satisfaction. 

  1. Competence development programs: Offering opportunities for continued education, specialized training, and mentorship programs helps nurses feel confident in their roles and increased workplace demands, contributing to job retention.

  1. Relatedness through team building: Foster relatedness among nursing staff by promoting team-building. This could involve encouraging collaboration, communication, and mutual support among team members. This helps nurses feel connected to their colleagues and valued as a team.

  1. Recognition and rewards: While many managers believe the “stick and carrot approach” is the best way to motivate their staff, it’s detrimental to their long-term engagement.  

Immersyve’s SDT theory suggests recognizing and acknowledging nurses' contributions instead of using the “stick and carrot” approach, letting them know they’re valued. Rewarding nurses for their hard work, dedication, and clinical excellence reinforces their sense of competence and value within the organization. 

Be sure to communicate that rewards and recognition are a gesture of appreciation for hard work rather than a way to motivate them.

  1. Leadership training in autonomy-supportive practices: Change starts from the top down. Provide training for nurse managers and administrators on autonomy-supportive leadership practices, teaching leaders how to empower their teams and provide opportunities for autonomy at work.

Book a call with Immersyve for a demo of our Nurse Manager Training Program.

What Should Healthcare Leadership Look Like? 

Effective leadership guides nursing teams through unprecedented challenges, ensures high-quality patient care, and fosters a supportive work environment for nurses. 

Strong leadership is more critical than ever in a climate marked by ongoing workforce shortages due to burnout, loss of autonomy, and stressful work environments.

Related Post: Preventing Burnout: Science-Based Strategies for Healthcare Professionals

What Challenges Should Leaders Healthcare Leaders Be Prepared For? 

Navigating Workforce Shortages 

Nurse leaders manage shortages, staffing issues, and increased patient demand. Effective leadership should address these challenges strategically, advocating for adequate staffing levels, optimizing workflows, and supporting frontline nurses facing heavy workloads.

Supporting Staff Well-Being

Ensuring a resilient workforce involves prioritizing the well-being of the nursing staff. Effective leadership means fostering a culture of compassion by providing resources and support for mental health and wellness. 

Nurse leaders play a key role in fostering an environment where nurses feel valued, respected, and supported professionally and personally.

Advocating for Professional Development 

Continuous learning and professional development help to keep nursing staff competent in their practice. Nurse leaders should advocate for opportunities for professional growth, including access to education, training, certification, and career advancement pathways.

Fostering a Culture of Collaboration and Diversity

Effective leadership in healthcare embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion, fostering collaboration among nursing staff. Nurse leaders can promote a culture where everyone feels valued and celebrated.  

Nurse Manager Training to Promote Retention  


Immersyve Health’s On-Demand Nurse Manager Training Program offers nurse managers actionable, easy-to-implement strategies for supporting their teams and improving retention. 

If you have questions or need more information, book a call with one of our health experts. By investing in your nurses, you're investing in the future of healthcare delivery!

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Nurse managers need training that doesn’t feel like an added burden. Our online training program is easily accessible from any device, including smartphones, so nurses can learn at their own pace and comfort

Top Insights

Check out the latest resources to help you improve burnout, retention, and engagement
Enhancing Healthcare Well-being: A Strategy for a Healthier Workplace
The Power of Self-Determination Theory in Healthcare
Nurse Retention and Burnout Prevention: Expert Insights on Cultivating a Resilient Team
Boosting Nurse Retention: Proven Strategies to Create a Thriving Nursing Staff
Nurse Burnout Relief Program eBook