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5 Issues Nurses Face in Their Career

Improving workplace conditions for nurses improves healthcare for all.

“America’s nurses are the beating heart of our medical system,” Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, said in a 2010 address to the American Nurses Association (ANA). “You’re on the front lines of health care in small clinics and in large hospitals, in rural towns and big cities, all across America.”1

As nurses dedicate their lives to caring for others, their own professional and personal needs may fall by the wayside. That’s why organizations like the ANA and dozens of others membership support and advocate for the more than 4 million U.S. nurses.2 As part of that work, the ANA has zeroed in on some of the challenges you may face today in your nursing career. Here are their Top Issues for Staff Nurses:3

5 Issues Nurses Face in Their Career

  1. Inadequate Staffing

    Being short-staffed for brief periods of time is common in most professions, and in many of those situations, it is a minor inconvenience. But in nursing, inadequate staffing can be a matter of life and death.

    “For the practicing RN, staffing is an issue of both professional and personal concern,” the ANA says. “Inappropriate staffing levels can not only threaten patient health and safety, and lead to greater complexity of care, but also impact on RNs’ health and safety by increasing nurse pressure, fatigue, injury rate, and ability to provide safe care.”

    In a report published with the consulting firm Avalere, the ANA recommends “that staffing levels in a value-based health care system should not be fixed, as day-to-day hospital requirements are constantly in flux.”4

  2. Mandatory Overtime

    Working long hours due to inadequate staffing, job turnover, and other factors can result in chronic overtime, placing another burden on nurses.

    “Staff nurses across the nation are reporting a dramatic increase in the use of mandatory overtime as a staffing tool,” the ANA says. “This dangerous staffing practice, in part due to a nursing shortage, is having a negative impact on patient care, fostering medical errors, and driving nurses away from the bedside.”3

    A study published in the Journal of Nursing Administration found that too much overtime inhibits collaboration. In addition to minimizing overtime hours, the study recommends “fatigue management training and education.”5

  3. Safety on the Job

    Many factors must come together to create a safe work environment. ANA initiatives to improve workplace safety include: 3

    • Safe patient handling: “Back injuries are always a danger, so ANA mounted a profession-wide effort to reduce them. This campaign includes greater education and training, workplace information on increased use of assistive equipment, and efforts to reshape government ergonomics politics to protect nurses.”
    • Safe needles: Needlestick injuries and blood-borne infections are “major concerns” of almost two-thirds of ANA members, the organization says. “While the majority of sharps injuries involve nursing staff, laboratory staff, physicians, housekeepers, and other health care workers can also be at risk and need protection. ANA is working to reduce those risks through education and legislation: arming health care professionals with the guidelines and resources to prevent injuries; and their employers with the ability to create workplace environments where they can do so.”6
  4. Workplace Violence

    “Healthcare and social service workers face an increased risk of work-related assaults resulting primarily from violent behavior of their patients, clients, and/or residents,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) writes in Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Workers. “While no specific diagnosis or type of patient predicts future violence, epidemiological studies consistently demonstrate that inpatient and acute psychiatric services, geriatric long-term care settings, high-volume urban emergency departments, and residential and day social services present the highest risks.”7

    OSHA, the ANA, and many other organizations are focused on preventing violent incidences through regulations, guidelines, and education. “No staff nurse should have to deal with violence in the workplace, whether from staff, patients, or visitors,” the ANA says.3

  5. Improving Self-Care

    This didn’t make the ANA’s tightly focused list, but it’s an issue inextricably linked with the nursing profession.

    “‘Care for yourself so you can care for others’ … an age-old adage that is easily forgotten in our jam-packed personal and professional lives. As caregivers, nurses have been socialized to care for others and thus often prioritize their needs as second,” writes Margo Halm, RN, PhD, NEA-BC, in an article published in the American Journal of Critical Care. “Self-care remains vital for nurses to ease the detrimental effects of stress in the constantly and rapidly changing health care environment and to prevent progression of those effects to burnout, which can have devastating consequences for nurses and those under their care.”8

    A full day of pampering may be unrealistic on a routine basis, but the good news is that self-care can be nourishing and lasting when enjoyed in small bites. Go for a walk or a run, visit with friends, work in the garden, read a book by a favorite or new author, binge a few episodes of a TV show, meditate, or practice a little retail therapy. Grab on to what helps you unwind and make it a regular part of your routine.

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