Nursing our Nurses: Maintaining Nurse Well-Being for Better Patient Care

With long shifts, long lists, and many long hours being spent on their feet, it is no surprise that the medical profession is physically taxing. Up to this point, methods for maintaining the health and well-being of caregivers have focused on doctors, with little regard for nurses’ needs. Now, institutions are beginning to understand the effects that a fatigued and stressed nursing staff can have on patient safety and are searching for solutions.

The Cost of Cutting Costs

As discussed in our previous article, “Invest in Nurses for Better Healthcare,” with more hospitals facing budget deficits, many are beginning to minimize nursing staff in an attempt to cut expenses. The increased hours and responsibilities being placed on remaining nurses are causing them to experience high levels of fatigue, which in turn, lead to a decrease in the quality of patient care and satisfaction.

Because bedside nurses have a high amount of direct contact with patients, when these nurses are over-worked or fatigued it creates a chain of events that can be devastating or even fatal for the patient. While intentions may be pure, caregivers who work longer shifts, extra-shifts, or do not take time to rest can end up hurting, instead of helping, the situation.

In fact, recent studies have shown that sleep deprivation has the same effect on a person as having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%, and that operating on six or less hours of sleep increases the chance for error by 3.4%.

Solutions Begin with Changing the Healthcare Culture

Much of the change that needs to happen begins with changing the culture of the work environment. With many hospitals being under-staffed, consecutive shift work and overtime have become a norm in the life of a nurse. However, when facilities recognize that personal limitations exist and they provide solutions to avoid burnout, the chances of mistakes being made decrease.

Solutions include:

  • Allowing nurses time to recharge by taking a short nap or brief walk
  • Implementing a buddy system where nurses partner up to watch for signs of fatigue in each other
  • Increasing the number of nursing staff
  • Using creative scheduling techniques with shorter shifts and proactive planning to limit excessive overtime or double-time shifts for nurses

By making changes, hospitals can change the mindset of nurses. This can reduce stress, alleviate fatigue, and ultimately help prevent physical exhaustion, resulting in better care for their patients.

Fatigue Is More than Just a Physical Problem

In addition to being physically drained, nurses experience high levels of emotional and mental exhaustion. One study of oncology nurses found that one in every two nurses reported high levels of emotional distress—including emotional exhaustion, low feelings of personal accomplishment, and depersonalization. This distress, referred to as “compassion fatigue,” is becoming the focus of leadership discussions in an attempt to alleviate this condition and reduce nurse turnover rates.

At the Cancer Treatment Center of America and Midwestern Regional Medical Center, the oncology unit has organized special renewal rooms, which offer the opportunity for nurses to take a moment away from the hustle and bustle of the floor and process the day’s events. These rooms are designed to provide a solitary experience, with only one nurse being allowed in the room at any given time. There, journaling materials, music therapy instruments, and yoga mats are tools provided to create outlets for stress and opportunities for renewal.

Since their opening in 2013, these rooms have proven to be an effective resource in combating compassion fatigue—with 96% of nurses reporting a decreased level of anxiety after using the renewal rooms.

An All-Around Win

When the physical and emotional needs of healthcare professionals are met, everyone stands to gain. Studies have shown that when nurses are able to operate at full mental, physical, and emotional capacity, both the hospitals and patients benefit.


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