At some point or the other, everyone must deal with work overload at their jobs. The stress of the extra work can cause them to under-perform, not really put in 100% efforts into their job. For people with jobs that don’t directly deal with the matters of life and death, this occasional under-performance is usually not a problem. But can the same be said for jobs in healthcare? Particularly for nurses who spend their entire day by the patients’ bedside caring for them, discussing with doctors about the patients’ health status, and interacting with the patients’ families? Is it a good idea to overload the important pillars of healthcare with so much work that they fail to deliver the quality care that’s so naturally expected of them?
In a Kronos Incorporated survey conducted in May 2017 of over 257 Registered Nurses working in US hospitals, it was discovered that even though 93% of them were satisfied with their jobs, nearly 98% said that their work was physically and mentally grueling, 85% admitted that they felt overall fatigued because of their work, 44% worry about the impact on patient care quality because of their tiredness, and 37% worry that they might make a mistake at work. Nurses are the backbone of healthcare structure, and we’re all aware of the important role that the backbone plays in the physical body.
So why are US nurses being overworked? The reasons can be attributed to four major factors: insufficient staffing and extended overtime, higher demand for nurses, lack of enough supply in nurses, and cutback in the patient stay duration in the hospital.
Let’s talk about the 1st factor, insufficient staffing and extended overtime, in more detail. This factor is often manifested in the unbalanced nurse-to-patient ratio, where nurses are assigned way too many patients at once than they can care for efficiently. To help you understand better, let me paint a scenario for you:
You arrive at work, look at the assignment board and become confused. You build up the gut to ask the Charge Nurse, “Is this my assignment?”, and with an attitude, the CN replies “What do you think it is? Of course, it’s your assignment”.
You take a deep breath and proceed to get report. You know you can’t say anything. If you dare say anything, you will be labeled difficult and not a team player. Your assignment is 4 clients, 3 complete and 1 confused on day-shift. RN on the left has 3 independent, and RN on the right has 2 independents out of 3 patients.
Management comes around, looks at the assignment and makes absolutely no change. You can’t approach management because they are all buddies. Let’s talk about having a tech that is part of the buddy system and how they are selective on which Registered Nurse to help first. It is now 10 am and you have only done one med pass in room 399. Room 400 bed/exit alarm has been going off all morning. Room 401 has been calling for 30 minutes to be cleaned up. Who is suffering here? Is it the nurse or the patients?
It’s the patients! There is a major delay in patient care due to unfair assignments like such. The nurse-to-patient ratio is severely imbalanced here meaning that none of the concerned patients are getting the level of care they deserve. What could be the resulting consequences of such a scenario? One where a single nurse is juggling many patients at once? Some of the grave consequences include critical medication errors, aggravated health complications, negligence in compliance with care regulations, increased chances of infections, and even higher patient mortality levels.
We need a better system, one that doesn’t allow for such unfair nursing assignments. The way these assignments take a toll on the mental and physical health of the nurses is just one part of the complete equation; the other part which deals with the well-being of people who rely on the nurses for their healthcare is much more pressing. It’s about time we awaken to the underestimated plight of nurses in the country.