Nursing has been in a state of crisis for years now. Many associate the national shortages with the pandemic. The truth? While Covid did exacerbate the mass exodus from the profession, it has actually been a long time coming.
For years, experts have warned that more people have been leaving the nursing profession than entering it. With all of the emotional and physical challenges associated with the job, it’s not hard to figure out why. The hours are hard. The experiences can be difficult to deal with on a mental and emotional level.
And yet, healthcare can’t exist without nurses. What can be done to stave off the crisis? In this article, we explore ways to reduce stress on nurses.
Why it matters
You don’t have to venture too deep into the news to learn that the nursing industry is experiencing a major staffing shortage. Not so long ago, a staff nurse at a Washington hospital made national headlines for calling 911.
The problem? Not an unruly patient. Not family members getting into trouble. The hospital was overrun with patients. The five nurses on duty weren’t nearly enough to handle the patients already admitted, let alone the 45 others waiting to be processed in the waiting room.
While the story is dramatic, it’s also not uncommon. Nurses all over the country responded to the story with sympathized with the situation. Tweets and other social media messages poured in from all over the country. “Neat idea. Hospital overrun? Just call the police. Why didn’t I think of that?” One user wrote.
The situation aptly describes the moment we are in. Nursing has always been a difficult job. Right now, it seems that if those challenges can’t be massaged the entire healthcare system may cave beneath the weight of what is currently happening.
Emphasizing self-care in the workplace
Words like self-care often seen as indulgent and impractical. What working person has time for that? At its essence, however, the self-care concept is all about making sure people have what they need to be healthy and well.
It’s not about massages and expensive candles. It’s about getting enough sleep. Eating right. Having enough time at the end of the day to unwind and feel at peace.
So often, self-care is a burden placed on the professional. The operative word is “self,” after all. Here’s the thing. You can’t reasonably be expected to care for yourself when you aren’t being given a window of opportunity to do it.
Nurses work twelve-hour shifts. Mind, that’s only time spent on the job. Factor in getting ready, driving to the hospital, changing back into civilian wear, etc, and a nursing shift essentially devours an entire day. Multiply that by three or four shifts per week.
Ok, it’s hard, sure. But there are three or four other free days for the nurse to do what they want. That’s more than most people get.
One of the most nefarious things about a nursing shift is that the nurse working it often spends the entire next day recovering, mentally, emotionally, and physically. But you’re right. Nurses do technically have chances to practice self-care.
Unless they have kids. A secondary degree to get, a—well. You get the point. Life isn’t designed for leisure. Not in the western world’s job market.
For nurses to get the emotional and mental help that they need, hospitals need to do their part to help cauterize the wounds of the Great Nursing Resignation.
Company culture essentially describes what it feels like to work for a business. You don’t always associate the term with hospitals, perhaps largely because hospitals are never associated with “feeling good.” In fact, they exist solely in response to negative feelings.
There are certain aspects of the job that no healthcare system can help with. The work is sad. Bad things happen. Nurses go home crying. But while there is no fixing the nature of healthcare, there are ways to provide those impacted by it with more support.
A simple step that hospitals can take is to provide their nurses with emotional support resources. Some businesses go so far as to offer counseling or social work services. Others provide company chat lines and other community resources that allow employees to be open and honest with their feelings.
Even offering resources at all can have a positive impact on employee morale. Workers consistently rank self-profess that employer recognition is one of the key factors in how they decide where they want to work. By making nurses feel valued, some hospitals may find that they increase their retention numbers.
Reconsider nursing shifts
Nursing hours are consistently divided into two twelve-hour-long shifts. This is done primarily for logistical reasons. It is much easier to staff two shifts than it is to staff three—particularly when hospitals are already experiencing personnel shortages.
Easy or not, however, this scheduling model is a major turnoff for many nurses. Not only does it make their lives difficult, but it also eats away at their ability to do the job at all.
Studies consistently show that people are only really good for four hours of sustained concentration during any given day. They can still accomplish things beyond that window, but their best work will always be limited.
In other words, the longer the shift, the more mistakes will ultimately be made. To that extent, patient outcomes may also benefit from a reduction in nursing shift times.
There isn’t an easy answer to the problem of job-related stress in nursing. It is an inherently difficult profession, and a certain level of turnover is to be expected regardless of “company culture,” or employee outreach initiatives.
No single solution can fix the problems that are currently being seen. However, with sincere and concerted effort, hospitals can do their part to reduce turnover, and make their nurses.