Lack of Nurse Wellness Hinders Healthcare Industry Success

Nurses are loved.

It’s easy to understand why: nurses serve us as counselors, comforters, confidants, and great listeners. Their bedside manners play a crucial role in seeing patients and their families through the toughest times. Nurses are indispensable to healthcare delivery as caregivers, patient advocates, managers of care, and decision makers who use critical thinking skills to come up with the best outcomes for patients.

Polls conducted by the Gallup Organization consistently list nursing as one of the nation’s most trusted professions, but many nurses pay a huge price for their service. The following are some of the biggest threats to nurses in the workplace:

Research shows that, on average, nurses are less healthy than the general public. They are more likely to be overweight, have higher levels of stress, and get less sleep.

The heavy lifting nursing requires makes them seven times more susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries like back pain.

Some nurses are subjected to violence on the job; some report bullying and harassment from physicians and administrators.

Workplace violence against nurses appears to be trending upward. Between 2012 and 2014, workplace violence for nurses and nursing assistants doubled, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In addition, 41 percent of nurses reported in a survey by RN Networks they had been bullied or harassed by managers or administrators.  Another 43 percent said they didn’t have a healthy work life balance.

Nurses are also susceptible to infections in the workplace. They face a number of workplace hazards each day, including exposure to blood borne pathogens and cold and flu germs.

A survey of 2,100 nurses at the University of Maryland’s School of Nursing found that 55 percent of them were obese. Researchers cited job stress, irregular work hours, and irregular lunch or dinner breaks as the prime contributing causes.

The health challenges confronted by nurses on the job are a threat to the smooth operations of our healthcare system and to the health of all Americans. That’s why the healthcare industry, organizations of professional healthcare workers, and our nursing schools must pay more attention to the physical and mental health of nurses. Together, we all must step up efforts to steer nurses toward healthier life styles and to lessen their burdens by creating safer work environments.

The nation’s 3.6 million nurses are the single biggest part of the healthcare workforce. Their health and well-being is essential for sound healthcare delivery. Having healthy nurses translates into better outcomes for patients and, therefore, a healthier America.

Unhealthy nurses, particularly those who work in settings that are short-staffed and subjected to duties other than patient care such as cleaning rooms and collecting supplies, are more prone to job dissatisfaction and burnout. Dissatisfied and burned out nurses are more likely to leave jobs in acute care settings (which employ approximately two-thirds of all nurses) or at hospitals. Some nurses are forced to leave the profession altogether.

This trend is problematic for a couple of reasons.

First, the United States has been confronting a nursing shortage for years. The shortage is sparked by the graying of the nursing profession, a shortage of seats in our nursing schools, a dearth of nursing faculty and an increased demand for nurses triggered by America’s rapidly aging population. Nearly 70,000 nursing school applicants are turned away each year because there is an insufficient number of seats in our schools. We cannot afford to lose more nurses at a time when demand for registered nurses is failing to keep pace with supply.

Second, burned out nurses put patients at risk. An American Journal of Infection Control study of Pennsylvania hospitals found a significant correlation between nurse burnout and increased infections among patients.

That’s why the American Nurses Association’s “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge” is a great start. The challenge, launched to coincide with National Nurses Week in May 2017, is a bold initiative to work with employers, health organizations and nurses on improving health in five areas: nutrition, rest, physical activity, quality of life, and safety.

But it needs to be more than just a start. It should be a planned, determined multi-year effort with timelines and goals that are objective, realistic and achievable. Our healthcare industry will be better for it.

Anne Bavier is dean of UTA’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation and president of the National League for Nursing.

Posted in Expert Opinions.