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Nursing: More Work to do than Time Available June 6, 2017

Posted by mariemanthey in Leadership, Professional Practice.
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Nursing staffs often face unpredictable peaks in workload. These peaks can occur at any time and maybe be caused by any of a number of factors: unexpected admissions, sudden changes in patients’ acuity levels, or true life-or-death emergency situations.

These peaks are sudden, stressful, and highly charged emotional events.

As workload escalates, experienced staff members begin prioritizing and scanning: scanning the care environment, selecting the next most important thing to do, and doing it.

This triage process may go on for minutes or hours, is informed by high-level critical thinking, and results in  patients receiving safe and adequate care but not receiving every item of ordered or desired care.

Those non-delivered care items are not consciously omitted, nor are they forgotten. In fact, they lie waiting in the nurse’s professional- thinking brain space until the stress is over, the documentation is done and they have left for the day. On the way home, these ‘undone’ activities float to the surface and cause feelings of guilt, failure and anger – anger because the quality of care delivered didn’t meet the nurse’s own standard for care.

I believe that the treatment for this situation is to acknowledge explicitly throughout the profession and throughout the health care system that, as professionals, nurses have the right and the responsibility to determine what to do and what not to do when there is more work to do than time available.   And when questioned,  nurses need to be able explain their rationale for the decisions that were made.

Common sense requires recognition of this reality.

Recognition and understanding of heretofore  ‘hidden truths’ about nursing work can lead to much more productive research and practices, and can help dispel legacy myths about nursing practice…that we  always give total patient care.   That leads us right into the dysfunctional mind set of fear and guilt about staffing that now is all too often present in the life of a staff nurse.

More about ‘hidden truths’ relation to nurse resources and nurse workload in another posting.

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