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The Role of Social Support Networks for Rural Hospital Nurses: Supporting and Sustaining the Rural Nursing Work Force

MacPhee, Maura PhD, RN; Scott, Jill PhD, RN

Journal of Nursing Administration: May 2002 - Volume 32 - Issue 5 - p 264-272

Objective This survey study describes the workplace social support networks of rural hospital nurses in one geographic region of Colorado. This rural sample was compared with data from a sample of urban hospital nurses in Colorado.

Background Social support networks influence nurses’ satisfaction and retention. Nursing recruitment and retention is especially critical in rural areas where it takes healthcare facilities 60% longer than urban facilities to fill nursing vacancies. Little is known about rural nurses’ social support networks.

Methods The Social Network Questionnaire (SNQ) was mailed to all nurses within one rural region of Colorado. Descriptive, correlational and comparative statistics were used to evaluate the structure and function of these nurses’ networks.

Results The nurses’ networks were predominantly peer-based, but managers provided significant functional supports. The types of support provided by managers depended on the managers’ placement in the nurses’ networks. Some managers provided only performance feedback, and other managers offered physical assistance and emotional support. Rural nurses expected more guidance from management than did their urban counterparts.

Implications This sample of nurses clearly delineated the types of leadership styles most beneficial to them. Communication of roles and expectations between staff and management can enhance nursing satisfaction in the workplace setting.

Author affiliations: The Children’s Hospital of Denver, Denver, Colo (Dr MacPhee); The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, Colo (Dr MacPhee and Dr Scott).

Corresponding author: Maura MacPhee, PhD, RN, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, 4200 E. Ninth Avenue, Box C288-8, Denver, CO 80262 (

This project received the American Nurses Foundation grant for the year 2000.

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.