Nursing wounds

Gregory Nemec

Gregory Nemec

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The number of nursing school students graduating annually has increased, but one in four nurses leaves his or her first job within two years of starting. A new study, published in the July/August issue of Nursing Outlook, identifies possible reasons why.

Workloads were so overwhelming that nurses had no time for breaks or lunch.

The research, led by School of Nursing assistant professor Linda Pellico, involved analyzing the written comments made by more than 600 newly licensed registered nurses in a national survey. Many of the nurses surveyed said they hadn’t been prepared for the realities of their working environments. “They come into nursing really believing that they’re going to make an impact on the personal lives of their patients, that they're going to be respected,” Pellico says. “And then they face understaffing. They have patients who yell at them and unacceptable communication patterns between health care providers.” The new nurses also reported that they were given too much responsibility too early, and their workloads were so overwhelming that they had no time for breaks or lunch.

The study also yielded recommendations for change. In particular, Pellico thinks nursing school should prepare students for the working conditions they’ll face when they graduate. That includes considerably longer hours; as students, the nurses surveyed generally worked 4- to 6-hour shifts, rather than the 8 to 12 hours common for licensed nurses.

There was also a strong call for changes at hospitals, from lower patient-nurse ratios to things as fundamental as keeping basic supplies in stock.

“It’s not rocket science,” Pellico says. “There are some very simple things you can do to make nurses’ lives easier. They’re not happy in the environment they’re in. When you have this large a cohort telling you what it’s like out there, it’s silly not to pay attention.”  

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