Nurses are uniquely able to benefit their communities. Improving the health of the people we serve is our heritage. But the physicality of the job, the emotional demands, the long hours, and the full workloads often cause nurses to sacrifice their own health to ensure the wellness of others.
To promote better self-care for nurses and address nurse burnout prevention, the American Nurses Association (ANA) launched the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge in 2017. According to the ANA, the challenge endeavors to "connect and engage nurses, employers, and organizations around improving health in five areas: physical activity, nutrition, rest, quality of life, and safety."
By accepting the challenge, medical organizations can promote self-care, establish safer workplace policies and best practices, and ultimately improve the health of their nursing workforce, which can help nurses provide better and more compassionate care to patients.
Here are four interventions that employers can adopt to help support nurses as they develop healthy habits.
Offer healthy food choices.
Donuts in the breakroom, cookies from a patient's family, pizza at the staff meeting—the workplace is full of food that's delicious but best eaten in moderation. A 2017 ANA survey reports that 28 percent of participants did not have access to healthy food options during work hours.
To mitigate this issue, employers can make healthy choices available to their nurses by stocking the vending machines and cafeterias with healthy foods such as nuts, fruit, whole grains, and jerky. They can also provide healthy options when planning lunches for staff and make those choices as equitably priced as other choices.
They could go even further and make healthy sack lunch meals available to workers whose shifts fall when the cafeteria is closed, or they could host a farmer's market to increase access to fresh produce. When medical facilities invest in healthy eating, everyone—nurses, patients, and community members—benefits.
Nurse fatigue is a serious problem. Many nurses are shift workers, and odd working hours can lead to shift work sleep disorder, a condition that can lead to irritability, difficulty concentrating, depression, and difficulty maintaining personal relationships, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Nursing fatigue also undermines patient care and increases the potential for errors in the delivery of care.
The ANA recommends that nurses maintain healthy sleeping patterns and work-life balance. To help achieve this, employers should be mindful about reaching out to nurses who need their rest. They can help mitigate nurse fatigue by monitoring schedules and ensuring that nurses aren't taking on too many shifts. They can also track fatigue-related incidents and develop an action plan to reduce such incidents.
Ensure realistic workloads.
Nurses are burdened with heavy patient loads, which makes providing quality care to every patient nearly impossible. The stress involved with trying to balance these many demands on their time contributes heavily to nurse burnout. Employers and nurses must work together to solve this issue.
The ANA encourages employers to maintain a safe nurse-to-patient ratio based not on a fixed amount of shifts and patients but on other factors, including—but not limited to—the nurse's skill and expertise, the complexity of a patient's care needs, and the availability of support staff.
Employers should make every effort to staff their units appropriately and to provide support staff to allow for nurses to focus on tasks equivalent to their level of training and experience. Nursing informatics professionals can be brought in to help improve workflow, and feedback from nurses can help eliminate redundant or unnecessary tasks.
Value workplace safety.
Everyone deserves to be safe from physical harm, emotional abuse, and verbal bullying in their workplace. Nurses care for patients who have varying degrees of inhibition and mental stability, and their workplace places them in close proximity to people who are often having the worst days of their lives—not to mention their equally stressed families and loved ones.
In addition, the stress of the job can cause problems in the nursing staff, such as abuse and bullying. The ANA offers recommendations for employers to create safe work environments for nurses; chief among them is that employers must have systems in place for reporting violence, incivility, or bullying. Staff needs to be familiar with the process and know their rights, and employers should be responsible for disseminating that information. Employers should investigate all reports of workplace misconduct, and employers must adopt a zero-tolerance policy for violence toward staff, whether it be from a patient or a co-worker.
Better environments, better patient care.
Organizations can help prevent nurse burnout by cultivating a supportive environment that values its employees and recognizes that an investment in nurse health is an investment in better patient outcomes and improved morale. Nurses should similarly invest in their own health by following ANA recommendations and participating in self-care activities, such as the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge, to achieve their personal and professional goals.