Preventing nurse fatigue

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The healthcare industry by definition exists to care for the health of each individual. But how well does it take care of its own?

Nurses, the caretakers on the front line, often work shifts of 12 hours and more, and may work up to 50 or even 60 hours per week. Fatigue threatens the health of those nurses, as well as the quality of the care they can provide. In a January 30th article in The Courier Journal, a 2014 American Journal of Critical Care study was cited as finding that nurses who were fatigued, had lost sleep, or couldn't recover between shifts were much more likely to regret a medical decision they had made.

The ANA is pushing for new standards limiting consecutive night shifts and shifts longer than 12 hours (see ANA press release). But what can you, the nurse manager, do to take care of yourself and your staff today, to improve the work environment and the energy they bring to it?

Try this advice from Essential Skills for Nurse Managers, the most recent book I've had the pleasure of working on. In Chapter 19, Personal Balance and Self-Renewal, co-author Sharon Cox shares techniques for managing physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy, based on the research of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. It may take time for the ANA recommendations to become standard practice, so in the meanwhile, here are ways to take care of ourselves:

  • Physical energy: Taking intermittent breaks during the day, walking upstairs or walking outside; making time for creative ideas or seeing a bigger picture; exercise routine; getting enough sleep
  • Emotional energy: Buying time to respond rather than react; minimizing negativity by learning what triggers that emotion; fueling positive emotions by routinely expressing appreciation; watching the stories we tell ourselves and making them as empowering and positive as we can without denying facts; keeping things in perspective by asking, "In six months is this really going to matter?" or "What can I learn from this experience?"
  • Mental energy: Avoiding multi-tasking; reducing interruptions by finding a quiet conference room to get a block of work done or taking a "work-at-home day" for a big project; checking email just twice a day; letting calls go to voice mail and responding between meetings; scheduling time for a challenging project; identifying at the end of each day the most important priority for the next day
  • Spiritual energy: Thinking about what you want to be remembered for and finding ways to do the things that you do well and enjoy (e.g., teaching or mentoring); looking for ways to live out core values, like service projects; getting involved in activities that allow you to be creative or innovative

If you'd like to share some of your favorite ways to recharge and renew your energy, please feel free to visit our nurse manager blog and add your comments.