How evolving the culture and fixing the superhuman mindset can improve the lives of nurses and their patients.
Nursing is consistently voted the nation’s most trusted profession – and yet, it can be one of the nation’s most ‘at-risk’ professions as well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing has the highest rate of nonfatal occupational injuries.
Dr. Danielle Ofri, the author of a recent op-ed in the New York Times, blames the culture of self-sacrifice encouraged by the healthcare industry. She writes that despite the detrimental experiences thrown a healthcare provider’s way, “an overwhelming majority do the right thing for their patients, even at a high personal cost.” Ofri explains that the code of ethics healthcare workers keep drives them to out-stretch themselves, rather than to complain, or better yet, ask for help.
Chris Caulfield, our co-founder, and Chief Nursing Officer, weighed in on his time working bedside. “Unsafe environments tend to be the norm – they happen on every shift. It should be unacceptable – but that’s the culture nurses come to accept.”
In honor of National Safety Month, we’d like to shine a light on the dangers nursing professionals grapple with every shift – in the hopes that at most, the culture of self-sacrifice changes, and at the very least, nurses can be more mindful of their health as their care for the health of others.
Injury on the Job
Nurses who assist in lifting or re-positioning patients often endure repetitive back pain injuries. Caulfield noted that even when facilities have no-lift policies in place, nurses will be asked to forego policy in the interest of time. “As a male nurse, especially, I was asked to lift patients and heavy objects, even when it was unsafe to do so.”
Needle sticks also are a regular threat to nurses – according to the CDC, an average of 385,000 sharps-related injuries occurs among healthcare workers. This puts nurses at-risk of several diseases, namely Hepatitis B, C, and HIV.
Accidents do happen, but Chris posits that some of these injuries can be avoided. “In the past, I worked at facilities that had no-lift policies, and others that used safer, retractable needles. The only barrier for each of those is price. The price of time saved by rushing and lifting a patient, and the higher price of better, more-advanced needles.”
In cases where the administration doesn’t spring for safer policies and safer equipment, nurses pay the price.
Violence against nurses
While healthcare workers make up only 9% of the workforce, studies indicate that there are nearly as many violent injuries in the healthcare industry as there are in all other industries combined. And the number of violent injuries will only continue to skyrocket as time has gone on; over the past decade, there has been a 110% spike in the rate of violent incidents reported against healthcare workers.
Incidents are incredibly common for nurses who care for patients with dementia. 76% of nurses surveyed in one study noted that they had experienced physical or verbal abuse in the last 12 months. But it’s not something always reported, dealt with, or taken seriously.
Some measures are being taken by individual facilities; hospitals will host self-defense classes or training exercises that walk nurses through specific violent scenarios, which is a start, but until there are nationwide safety standards, violence against nurses will be an inevitable reality.
Ask any nurse, and they will tell you that stress is par for the course, caused by a stressful work environment in general, and exacerbated by inadequate staffing levels.
In a 2016 study, 92% of nurses surveyed reported moderate to very high levels of stress. And that stress carries over into the rest of their lives. The same study also found that 78% of nurses reported sleeping less than 8 hours a night, 69% did not exercise regularly, and 22% of nurses’ relationship with alcohol would be characterized as binge drinking.
This chronic stress and lack of self-care all contribute to nurse burnout – an occupational phenomenon the World Health Organization characterizes as “feelings of energy depletion,” “increased mental distance from one’s job,” and “reduced professional efficacy.”
When nurses sacrifice their own well-being, it not only impacts their own health but their ability to provide the best care to the very patients they are aiming to protect. It can also be the catalyst for nurses leaving the field – which will only exacerbate the severe nurse staffing shortage.
So – what’s the solution to an environment where injury, abuse, and burnout are the norm?
For our part, IntelyCare is trying to improve the nursing experience. We allow nurses to choose their own schedule and take control of their lives. We offer a care team ready to advocate on their behalf, and we are a company co-founded by a nurse who understands what it’s like to be on the front lines of patient care. While we hope that our ability to fill the gaps in care will reduce stress on facility floors, we know that our efforts won’t even remotely come close to solving a pervasive, industry-wide issue.
Associate professor Linsey Steege, who studies the health and safety of nursing professionals, sums up the “supernurse” phenomenon perfectly: “That need and culture to be super creates a stigma around asking for help. It creates a stigma around showing signs of weakness and it creates, in some ways, some internal cultures within nursing that you’re not a real nurse if you haven’t worked 12 hours without peeing or taking a break, or if you haven’t worked five shifts in a row.”
Something has got to give – namely eradicating the mindset of self-sacrifice. This mindset that makes nurses so admirable is also the one that is their downfall. If nurses can start recognizing dangerous situations and abuse and advocate for themselves, that’s a great place to start. But ultimately, we also need a shift in the nursing culture.
As healthcare continues to evolve as a result of technological innovation and government policy, let’s hope that these shifts are made not only in the interest of saving money, simplifying and expediting administrative processes, or winning awards, but also a shift in culture in the interest of the people on the front lines taking care of us and the ones we love.
IntelyCare was created by nurses, for nurses. We’re here to take care of those who take care of everyone else; our staffing solution gives nurses the opportunity for a better, more flexible schedule to help reduce nurse stress. At IntelyCare, we’re driven to offer nurses and CNAs healthcare’s best working experience. Apply today.