National Nurses’ Week: A Look At The Long Hours

Each year, National Nurse’s Week celebrates the more than 4.1 million professionally active nurses in the U.S., pausing to appreciate members of what Americans have rated as the “most honest and ethical profession” for the last 16 years. Starting each year May 6 and ending on May 12 (Florence Nightingale’s birthday), the week allows nurses to enjoy a concerted display of pubic gratitude, participate in appreciation events and special discounts, and consider what can be done to improve many aspects of their profession.

One such aspect under considerable scrutiny is the amount of fatigue nurses face on a regular basis, and how this not only affects their health and job satisfaction, but potentially increases the amount of errors and near misses during a shift. While many other industries requiring allday coverage – like commercial truck drivers, air traffic controllers, and railroad workers – have instituted shift-length restrictions (8-10 hours) and required rest periods between shifts, 75% of nurses today still work 12-hour shifts.

And while nurses report enduring the longer shifts in exchange for the benefits of longer times off, and a good work-life balance, many nurses also report picking up additional shifts, taking a second job, or generally not getting enough sleep while away from work. These factors are being shown by many studies to increase the risk of a long list of undesirable results, ranging from errors in decision-making and decreased hand-hygiene compliance (resulting in more sickness in the nurse him- or herself), to decreased patient sympathy (dubbed “compassion fatigue”) and an increased likelihood of accidents while driving home after a shift.

Additionally, many of these studies show that the impact of fatigue on job performance and job satisfaction increases as a person ages. The population of nurses is aging at a faster rate than it is being replenished by younger nurses; today more than 44% or nurses are over the age of 50 and only 9.4% are younger than 30. Many nurses are also choosing to postpone retirement due to economic reasons, lengthening the number of years their minds and bodies must endure the long hours of work.

These factors among others are driving the current debate as to whether the 12-hour shift should be reduced for the nursing industry. This change would require additional scheduling technologies and strategies for nursing managers who currently must schedule two shifts in the
24-hour period; adding additional shifts would substantially increase the complexity of managing schedules. Additionally, shortening shifts could potentially increase the paperwork and hand-off efforts between nurses, as one clocks out and the other clocks in. Communication between shifts is key in ensuring the proper care of patients, and the time it takes for the handoff can actually lengthen the time of a nurse’s shift, potentially negating the benefits of a shorter shift.

Technology advances are helping increases the communication efficiencies within hospitals, allowing nurses to spend less time on paperwork and more time in patient care – or simply allowing them to leave their shift on time. For example, the Health Data Exchange software from ESO Solutions keeps accurate and easily accessible patient records, from the initial data recorded by EMS personnel, to the time the patient reaches the Emergency Department, to eventual discharge. Data can be shared from or with any EHR or major hospital EMR system in an agnostic “connect once, connect to all” model, all in real time. This not only improves clinical outcomes but can help lighten the burden on the hardworking nursing staff.

Nurses across the nation continue to give their best to their patients and fellow nurses throughout the long hours of day and night, and National Nurses Week offers well-deserved recognition to the many ways they serve patients and their family members. With continued discussion and evaluation of best practices, nursing will ideally continue as a thriving and attractive career for millions of Americans for decades to come.

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