NEW YORK NURSE: November 2009
Convention keynote speaker Linda Aiken challenged her audience with the question, “Do we really understand how the outcomes of our nurses affect the outcomes of our patients?”
Aiken, a widely published nurse researcher and national authority on nurse staffing, discussed her recent study that linked nurses’ job dissatisfaction with unsafe patient care. Aiken’s presentation was peppered with editorial cartoons depicting the public’s perception of overworked nurses, but pointed out that how nurses fare on the job is an important window on patient safety.
The study, one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind, surveyed 80,000 RNs and 19 million patients in all practice settings in Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey, and Florida. It covered 800 hospitals and accounted for 25% of all hospital admissions in the nation.
Not surprisingly, the study found that nearly 30% of nurses report feeling burned out on the job. Factors such as being asked to care for too many patients and inappropriate nursing skill mix to patient requirements were listed as chief reasons for burnout. These feelings of being overworked and undervalued led to significantly higher mortality rates, dissatisfied patients, and less retention of new nurses.
Of those nurses surveyed, job dissatisfaction is the greatest in hospitals and in direct patient care, yet these practice settings saw the least turnover. Aiken suggested that sense of personal accomplishment is highest in clinical care roles and, for many, is a reason to stay on the job.
Pippa White gave a moving portrayal of the lives of three women who revolutionized nursing in her performance, “Into Possession of Myself.” The one-woman performance was based on the diaries, journals, and letters of Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, and Dorothea Dix. It brought to vivid life the vision, experiences, emotions, struggles, and determination of three reformers who built the foundation for modern nursing. After giving her a standing ovation at the conclusion, nurses expressed their appreciation for the depth and understanding of White’s performance. One audience member remarked: “Even though you’re not actually a nurse, you’re one of us.”
In her presentation, “Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First,” speaker Ann Quinn reminded her audience of the importance of taking care of themselves as well as others.
“I have so much respect for how hard nurses work,” she said. “But doing too many things produces stress.” She defined stress as a free-floating fear that something is going to happen. “Then, what we think about, we bring about,” she added.
Noting that stress is almost a status symbol in modern society, Quinn said that our brains are not hard-wired for multi-tasking.
“If we do three or more things at a time we end up feeling anxious and angry,” she said. “We’re juggling plates in the air and some of them are going to smash.”
Before conducting a brief meditation session, Quinn urged nurses to take time to live in the moment, “the only place you can feel joy. Of all the groups I speak to, nurses seem to be the most tired. They’re tired from their whole lives and their bodies are saying, ‘Please let me stop.’”