It’s certainly no secret that nurses often work long hours, but doing this to the extreme can be detrimental to both the health of nurses and that of the patients under their care. In recent years, the healthcare community has started to place additional focus on the serious issue of nurse fatigue.
Shift work and long hours on the job have been linked to a host of injuries, sleep disturbances, mood disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, obesity, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, adverse reproductive outcomes, cancer and more.
There’s a big difference between feeling a bit tired and suffering from full-blown fatigue. People who are tired may be a bit forgetful and suffer from muscle weakness at the end of the day, but still have enough energy to power through. Conversely, many studies have associated fatigue with errors that could make the difference between the life and death of a patient, such as increased risk-taking, declines in short-term memory and a reduced ability to learn.
In fact, a 2014 study in the American Journal of Critical Care found that nurses who were fatigued, lost sleep or couldn’t recover between shifts were much more likely to regret a medical decision they had made.
The ANA Speaks Out
In November 2014, the American Nurses Association (ANA) released a position statement claiming that nurses and employers are jointly responsible for reducing the risks of nurse fatigue.
“Research shows that prolonged work hours can hinder a nurse's performance and have negative impacts on patients' safety and outcomes," said ANA President Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN in that statement. “We're concerned not only with greater likelihood for errors, diminished problem solving, slower reaction time and other performance deficits related to fatigue, but also with dangers posed to nurses' own health.”
Preventing Nurse Fatigue
The ANA recommends that employers and nurses take the following steps to effectively combat nurse fatigue:
- Employers should consult nurses when creating work schedules and implement regular schedules.
- Nurses should work no more than 40 hours in a seven day period and no more than 12 hours per 24-hour period.
- Mandatory overtime should not be used as a staffing solution.
- Nurses should be granted frequent breaks during their shifts.
- Employers should enact an official policy giving nurses the right to decide whether or not to accept a work assignment, to avoid fatigue. Rejecting an assignment should not result in any negative consequences.
- Nurses are responsible for getting enough sleep each night and arriving to work well-rested.
- Nurses should be sure to take breaks intermittently throughout their shift, to keep their energy level up.
Join the Discussion
For more information on this important issue in the healthcare community, see http://www.nursingworld.org/fatigue. To discuss other important healthcare and nursing issues, see what the ANA has going on for National Nurses Week and join our community discussions on our Facebook page.