The Problem with Taking Breaks

Nursing is a giving profession and we nurses tend to give a lot, but not all of that giving is by choice. In a conventional job, taking breaks is part of a normal shift. With nurses, there are patients who must receive care. However, providing that care is not always black and white. Patient safety is the top concern and that is sometimes difficult to pull off when so many cogs affect how the wheel turns. For example, a Long Term Care nurse might have twenty patients and two are about to be sent out to appointments, while at the same time you’re expecting two incoming admissions. Not knowing when these patients will arrive makes giving nurses breaks less predictable. Outside factors can make it impossible to stick to a routine schedule that is commonplace in many other industries. When nurses do not receive breaks they become fatigued and that leads to a decrease in patient safety.

There are many studies across many industries that point to the dangers of fatigue on the job. Long-haul truck drivers are a perfect example. If they are too tired to drive they not only risk their own lives but those of other drivers on a road. It is the same with nurses, though the mechanism of injury is different and the outcome varies. A wrong med here, loss of compassion there, lack of infection control, critical medications are given late… the list of possibilities is unfortunately endless. The results show up in data such as increased re-admissions, job turn over, elevated frequencies of call-ins, poor inter-professional relationships, etc.

It seems so easy to fix – just allow nurses to take breaks and eat lunch. Simple, right? The problem is that nursing is not that “cut and dry.” Nursing comes with a high degree of unpredictability and requires around-the-clock constant care. Many times, that care does not fit neatly into a timetable or regimen. Patients always come first. That said, there are definitely ways to manage nurses’ fatigue and even improve your overall quality of care. So, what can be done?

The Road to Caring with Exhaustion

One solution is to ensure your facility is set up with a reliable On-Demand per-diem staffing partner in order to give your internal nurses their own break and reduce the mandatory overtime that’s become commonplace among inpatient health-care facilities. The statistics show that tired nurses have a negative impact on the care they provide, but rarely do we look at their financial impact at their facilities. Tired nurses make mistakes that lead to lawsuits, workers compensation claims, hiring expenses, training, recruitment, etc. Too many patient injuries or too many re-admissions can cause hospitals to lose the faith to discharge their patients back to these LTC facilities. Ensuring that nurses take breaks is important and worth the investment, especially if it leads to decreased readmission frequencies.

Another important fix is to educate nurses so that they understand the impact of caring for themselves at home. There are additional studies that point to the lack of sleep as part of the honest of fatigue. Educating people on how to relax at home and at work is important. Finally, building and maintaining your own internal per-diem pool, as well as a trusted outside per-diem nursing partner who specializes in last minute fill ins, can be very effective tools to help cover short-staff issues. Focusing on these issues will help your facility to improve improve patient care, decrease readmission frequencies, and improve the relationship between nurses as well as the hospital and its community, all while saving you more money in the long run.

Keep your nurses fresh. Well rested nurses do their best work. It takes a lot of energy to care for other people, but we can’t forget to care for ourselves, too.

Deeper Reading and Sources

[1] Association of Sleep and Fatigue With Decision Regret Among Critical Care Nurses 

[2] The Effects of Fatigue and Sleepiness on Nurse Performance and Patient Safety

Chris Caulfield (RN, NP-C), is the Co-founder and Chief Nursing Officer of Intelycare which the fastest growing Per-Diem Nurse Staffing organization in the US. IntelyCare is a technological enhanced platform that was founded in 2016 and now has over over 3,000 IntelyPros (RN, LPN, and CNA employees) serving over 150 healthcare facilities throughout the northeastern US.

Prior to founding IntelyCare, Chris’ past Healthcare experience includes Long Term Care Nursing, Nursing Informatics, Labor Relations, Case Management, and a Urgent Care Nurse Practitioner.