Nurse fatigue occurs when nurses work prolonged shifts with little to no rest and make errors in their performance as a result. Due to the sensitive nature of a nurse’s responsibilities, this can have a life-or-death impact on patient health and safety. Unfortunately, this is a problem that has been around since the profession began, and healthcare workers and hospitals are still trying to determine how to effectively and efficiently eliminate the issue to ensure that patients receive the proper standard of care.
According to USA Today, researchers have found that nurses who are too tired not only make errors, their risk-taking increases while their short-term memory declines. The researchers elaborated by stating that a nurse who had been awake for 17 hours would have the cognitive abilities of a drunk person. Despite this, nursing remains one of the only professions that does not take fatigue into account when assessing and eliminating risks, such as is done with truck drivers and pilots.
The American Nurses Association recently reported their new position about nurse fatigue and the role both nurses and their employers should play in reducing its incidence. The ANA released some significant recommendations in their position statement, including the following:
- Employers should work with nurses to create schedules that are predictable and regular.
- Employers should eliminate mandatory overtime as a solution to their staffing issues.
- Nurses should work a maximum of 40 hours in each 7-day workweek with no more than 12 hours worked for each 24 hours.
- To reduce the risk of fatigue, employers should allow nurses the right to reject a work assignment if they feel they are unable to perform their duties as expected without the fear of retaliation.
The ANA also stated that employers should go so far as to encourage and allow nurses to take uninterrupted rest break periods during their shifts. With these measures in place, the issue could be greatly reduced and help minimize the amount of potentially dangerous errors nurses make each shift.