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Worn Out but Still Working: Easing Nursing Fatigue

A career in nursing can be exciting and fulfilling, with the unique opportunity to care for patients and give back to the community. But with those rewarding qualities come difficult ones. The job can be physically challenging and emotionally taxing, leading nurses down an unhealthy path of fatigue.

“Fatigue is about more than just sleep, but psychosocial stressors that can plague nurses,” said Gregory Williams, MSN, RN, CCRN, division manager of nursing for CHI Health.

The national nursing shortage is also contributing to fatigue. Many nurses volunteer or feel obligated to work more hours than they’re scheduled in order to meet patient demands.

“That is noble, but what we want to say is, ‘While we appreciate that, we want you to stay healthy, stay in the workforce, stay with CHI Health and be happy and healthy while you’re doing it.’”

So how do we give our nurses a healthy work environment and keep them happy, safe and capable of providing the very best care to patients? That’s the question Williams is working to answer alongside nurses in CHI Health’s Nursing Practice Shared Governance program. Together, nurses and leaders within the organization are developing new, robust policies to prevent nursing fatigue and the consequences that often follow.

“We want to create healthy work environments where nurses feel empowered and well prepared to take care of our patients,” Williams said.

The policy will provide evidence-based guidelines and operating processes for the amount of hours a nurse should work in a shift, how many shifts they should work consecutively and how they should go about performing their duties. In developing these guidelines, CHI Health nurses will bring shared problems and ideas to the table and use American Nurses Association (ANA) recommendations as a resource.

Williams said CHI Health already has some policies in place to prevent fatigue.

“If there’s a nurse that’s feeling fatigued, that nurse should call their chain of command to report how they’re feeling,” he said. “We have an employee assistance program available to all nurses who maybe aren’t feeling their best mentally. They can always reach out to human resources as well.”

Williams said a healthy staff helps ensure healthy patients, which is a culture CHI Health cultivates.

“A healthy staff is going to be more engaged, provide a higher quality of care and bring a consistent, retained team to our workforce,” Williams said.

CHI Health’s new policy is expected to be finished by early 2020.