Nurses are one of the largest and most vital workforces in healthcare. With the ever-changing processes and continuing advances in hospitals, they still need to meet expectations of both hospital management and patients whilst providing even more complex patient care.
As a result, nurses often describe their days as demanding, erratic, and both mentally and emotionally draining. These are some of the reasons why there is so much work-related stress, job dissatisfaction and poor personal health associated with the nursing profession.
Burnout, a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, is relatively common for those in healthcare professions. A study in BMC Nursing has investigated the factors which impact both this and work engagement in nurses through detailed interviewing. Collaboration with staff was seen as essential for effective workload balance but this was not always easy to attain, and nurses voiced clear frustration as a result.
It also became apparent that the need to provide increasingly complex patient care for chronic conditions coupled with a shortage of hospital staff causes a great deal of strain on nurses. In this study, one of the nurses even claimed “Our management expects good patient care quality but with a decrease of care personal … not easy.” Unsurprisingly, nurse managers also admitted that high workloads could affect quality of patient care and safety, not least of all because nurses become unable to socially interact with their patients and may be more prone to making mistakes.
The concerns regarding staff shortage has been echoed in many papers. One such example is a local study published in BMC Research Notes in which the combination of staff shortage, manual lifting and overtime hours was associated with a high prevalence of lower back pain in nurses in Bangladesh.
In a paper in BMC Obesity, nurses also stated that factors such as poor staffing, shift patterns, lack of breaks, hospital policies and the cost of food options can promote unhealthy behavioural habits, such as poor eating and inadequate physical activity. Nurses said they were left with “chips or burgers or things like that” during their night shifts and that, in general, working shifts made eating healthy “quite a struggle.”
The interviewed nurses mentioned that some of the issues could be resolved by offering more flexible shift hours – this would allow them the time for exercise, coping with family demands, and adequate sleep.
Furthermore, the papers suggested that a management which ensures a stimulating, positive environment would boost work engagement. This would strengthen self-confidence, resilience and professional independence, provide learning opportunities for personal development, and promote supportive staff relationships.
It’s important to note that these studies all converge on the same conclusion – we need to achieve a healthy nursing workforce. It follows on that only by actively addressing challenges raised and faced by our nurses, can we strengthen the quality and safety of our healthcare.