“The stress placed on our nurses is eventually going to cause many of them to quit, crippling our healthcare system.”
– Vickie Milazzo
How Nurses Are at the Center of an Impending Healthcare Crisis
New National Survey Reveals Dangerous Levels of Stress Among Nurses
Houston, July 3, 2014 – Our healthcare system is facing an impending crisis. The impact to patients and the quality of care they receive will be significant, magnified even more by a Baby Boomer population reaching the height of its need for hospital and medical resources. An already strained system is about to break, right at the patient bedside. The crisis is nurses.
Registered nurses (RNs) have long been the overworked and underappreciated workforce of the healthcare system. With over 2.7 million registered nurses (RNs) in the United States, RNs are the largest percentage of healthcare industry workers.
As a new survey published by Vickie Milazzo Institute has uncovered, RNs are under more stress than ever before at a time when the number of American seniors needing medical care is rapidly increasing and when our healthcare system is going through dramatic changes. According to the survey, the stress impacts RNs emotionally and physically; affects their ability to provide the highest level of patient care; and is creating a shortage of people who are willing to work under the current conditions of what it means to be a nurse today.
“The stress placed on our nurses is eventually going to cause many of them to quit, crippling our healthcare system. Our nursing system is already grappling with an aging workforce. Together both factors have the potential for creating a significant nursing shortage, “ says Vickie Milazzo, President of Vickie Milazzo Institute.
National Nurses’ Stress Survey Results
The Vickie Milazzo Institute survey of 3,312 nurses was conducted online in May 2014. With 73% of respondents having more than 10 years experience as an RN, the responses provide a broad view of the nursing industry.
According to the survey results, lack of sleep, poor diets, unrealistic workloads, and unsupportive management are not only placing a heavy burden on the lives of senior nurses, but are impacting the lives of younger nurses trying to balance both a career and family, often at the expense of their own health.
The very people who we rely on to take care of us are sick themselves.
Lack of Sleep and Proper Nutrition
According to the survey, 64% of RNs rarely get 7-8 hours of sleep in a night. Thirty-one percent (31%) get 7-8 hours sleep only 2-3 nights weekly. Merely 17% of survey respondents stated that they are “always” able to achieve this level of sleep. With 12-hour shifts, night shifts and being on-call, it can be difficult for nurses to find downtime.
Exacerbating the stress caused by long work hours and lack of sleep is poor nutrition. According to the survey results, a whopping 77% of respondents do not regularly eat properly. Almost one third (31%) of respondents rarely eat at least two balanced meals per day, while just less than half (46%) only “sometimes” do. This is a shocking result for a group acutely aware of the impact proper diet has on the human body.
Eighty-two percent (82%) of survey respondents feel that it’s difficult to strike a work-life balance. Twenty-eight percent (28%) “always” have work on their mind, while merely 18% are able to always put family and personal life first.
Lack of a Voice
In the survey, one of the most often cited sources of stress for RNs is management. That nurses are forced to walk the “tightrope of navigating with integrity between nursing practice and company policy and procedures. The two do not complement one another.”
Seventy-five percent (75%) of the survey respondents feel that they do not have the authority to do their jobs effectively. Inexperienced management, government bureaucracy and hospital administrations focused more on the bottom-line than patients are taking the ability to provide quality care out of the hands of those most qualified to provide it.
Nurses are the frontline of communication between patients, doctors and hospital staff. However, only 14% of RNs feel they can express themselves freely at work. In fact, 24% of RNs NEVER feel they can express themselves freely at work. For any patient, it is alarming that the individual you communicate with most at a hospital isn’t allowed to share their opinion.
Hospital Malpractice as a National Killer
The impact of stress on nurses extends well beyond the nurses themselves, and has a serious effect on the healthcare industry as a whole. Stress contributes to mistakes and errors and puts healthcare facilities at risk for liability. A 2013 study from the Journal of Patient Safety revealed that as many as 400,000 Americans die each year from malpractice in hospitals. This makes hospital errors the third leading cause of death in the U.S. – right behind cancer and heart disease.
With an aging U.S. population, the situation is only going to get worse. By 2030, there will be approximately 72.1 million people in the United States 65 years old or older, which is more than doubling the number from 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Our society’s need for experienced RNs is only going to intensify in the coming years.
However, according to the American Nursing Association, almost half (45%) of all registered nurses in the U.S. today are 50 years of age or older. As our population ages, a significant number of our experienced nurses will be leaving the profession. The formula for future medical care is downright scary: the coming influx of seniors needing medical attention will be relying on a younger workforce to take care of them, with the extreme levels of stress pushing many of the brightest nurses out of the system. All of this can easily add up to greater numbers of hospital malpractice deaths on top of the already surprisingly high numbers.
Quality of Care
With so many understaffed hospitals, our society will be facing a crisis, with patient care and outcomes continually suffering. With an aging population, this will impact our entire society at every level. The United States, a country that has prided itself on its high medical quality, will run the risk of transforming into a country with persistently eroding patient care.
Young nurses and nursing students, highly educated and passionate about helping people, will learn to look elsewhere for career advancement. The next wave of nurses, presented daily reminders on social media of the quality of life their friends enjoy, will be forced to evaluate their passion for nursing vs. a life of being over-worked, under-paid and over-stressed.
Steps for Hospitals to Take
With the impact of RN stress so pervasive, it is critical that hospitals and other healthcare facilities take action to remedy the extreme levels of stress. Basic steps that can be taken include:
- Making work hours realistic and humane.
- Providing access to nutritious meals and snacks.
- Giving RNs a voice, empowering experienced nurses the ability to get their jobs done effectively.
- Allowing long-time RNs a seat at the management table.
- Changing the culture in the workplace. Instead of berating nurses, enforce a work environment of mutual trust and respect.
A Weakened Healthcare System
The reality is that nurses are overly stressed. Yet, by burning out our nurses, doctors will be left with fewer of the very people who come into direct contact with patients most. And hospitals will be increasing their liability for malpractice. It’s ironic that the people and institutions one would think would be driving forces of nurses’ health are the very ones making the nurses sick, and helping to weaken our overall healthcare system.
In order to improve our healthcare system for patients, doctors, hospitals and nurses, it’s clear that reducing the stress levels of nurses should be a national priority.
The Vickie Milazzo Institute survey results as well as a SlideShare summary of the survey highlights can be found here:
About Vickie Milazzo Institute
Vickie Milazzo Institute is the authoritative resource center for nurses seeking to explore the field of legal nurse consulting. As the pioneers in this profession, the Institute is dedicated to revolutionizing nursing careers one RN at a time. Founded by Vickie L. Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD, Vickie Milazzo Institute is the nation’s oldest and largest legal nurse consulting training institute. Nationally recognized by attorneys, the CLNC® Certification is the official certification of the National Alliance of Certified Legal Nurse Consultants (NACLNC®). For more information, please visit LegalNurse.com.