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Patient Mortality Increase Associated with Extensive Critical Care Nurse Work Schedule

January 18th, 2011

According to a new study, patients placed in the intensive care unit are more likely to die from illnesses such as pneumonia and acute myocardial infarction in hospitals where nurses experience long-shift work schedules. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine,is published in the January/February issue of the journal Nursing Research.

The findings suggest that while a 12-hour shift may seem appealing—you get a higher paying salary—it causes sleep deprivation and fatigue. And naturally, sleep deprivation and fatigue can have serious consequences: if your mind is too tired or fuzzy, you are more likely to making critical mistakes. It's these mistakes that can end a patient's life.

While a 12-hour shift is optional at some hospitals, it is a mandatory set schedule at others. The popularity of the 12-hour shift (as opposed to the 8-hour shift) began with the nurse shortage of the 1980s. Some hospitals continue to require critical care nurses to work a 12-hour shift in order to relieve in-training physicians of their duties –hospitals don't want in-training physicians to overwork themselves. However, inadvertently it is the nurses who are being overworked, the study claims. The study does not claim however that taking a nap during breaks will improve one's performance; but it is safe to say that an adequate amount of sleep before enduring a long shift will most certainly be beneficial.

The study also suggested that a lack of time off was a reason that some nurses were prone to injury and mistakes. Nurses need time off to rest and recuperate, not only to improve job performance and properly take care of their patients, but to also protect their own health and bodies, the study reports.

For the study, which is titled "Nurses' Work Schedule Characteristics, Nurse Staffing, and Patient Mortality," researchers randomly selected and surveyed 633 nurses from 71 acute-care hospitals in two hospitals—one in Illinois and the other in North Carolina.