As we are entering a time of unique change in the healthcare industry, taking care of our nurses will need to be out #1 priority. The effects of the nursing shortage crisis, compounded with a growing number of patients seeking healthcare, can lead to nursing burnout and patient dissatisfaction quickly if not moderated.
Long Shifts and Nurse Burnout
Traditionally, extended work shifts of twelve hours or longer are common and popular among hospital staff nurses. With twelve hour shifts, hospitals aim to an increase in productivity due to less shift changes, and employees may enjoy the extra full day off as a result. Indeed, most nurses have the ability to work long and hard hours, for years even, taking care of others through rewarding work. However, several recent studies are showing how the negative effects of these long shifts have an enormous impact on motivation and increase burnout.
The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing report that nurses working shifts of ten hours or longer were up to two and a half times more likely to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction than nurses working shorter shifts. Furthermore, seven out of ten patient outcomes were significantly and adversely affected by the longest shifts.
This is complicated by the gross understaffing and supply of nurses. As of February 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that employment in nursing would reach 3.4 million by the year 2020. Despite this need, many states across the country are struggling to keep a full medical staff and continue to look for ways to cut budgets, nursing be one option to do so.
Patient Care and Dissatisfaction
There is a direct correlation between the nurse-to-patient ratio and the quality of care a patient receives, including adverse outcomes. Studies have shown that nurses on twelve hour shifts are more prone to make errors as a result of fatigue. As nurses spend the most time with patients day-to-day, they may overlook small indicators that can lead to big problems due to such fatigue. In hospitals which had higher proportions of nurses working longer shifts, higher percentages of patients reported more overall dissatisfaction with their nurses, including communication issues, lack of pain control and long wait times.
Preventing Nurse Burnout
Preventing nurse burnout is not just based on individual facilities but on the system as a whole. Nursing leadership should also encourage a workplace culture that respects nurses’ days off and vacation time, promotes nurse’s prompt departure at the end of a scheduled shift, and allows nurses to refuse to work overtime without retribution. Policy changes can facilitate manageable work hours that would contribute to the development of a healthier nursing workforce, prepared to manage the complex care needs of patients and their families. Travel nurses can also fill the void and take the strain off stressed hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Nurses are at the frontline of patient care and day-to-day medical duties, and without their dedicated work and patient check-ups both patients and the hospitals are hurt, not helped. By overworking and understaffing nurses, the whole system suffers.