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Hospital nurses: the dedicated workforce surviving on fatigue

There is no question. When you get home from your shift at the hospital, you are absolutely exhausted, but satisfied. You helped your patients work through their medical problems and hope that you have helped them on the road to recovery.

The problem is that you likely worked longer hours in a highly stressful environment than those in many other professions. The medical industry seems to take for granted the fact that nurses suffering fatigue is a major issue. It's just not right.

How many hours do you work?

While some suburban general practice offices close down at 5 pm, and the nurses head home after working a good 8 hours, you are heading into your tenth hour of a twelve-hour shift.

How many other people in your unit or at your hospital do this four times a week? With over 50 percent of hospital nursing staff working those long hours, you aren't the only one in your boat.

When do you sleep?

Sleeping. What is that again? With your constantly changing schedule, sleep may often end up on the to-do-list that never gets done.

A recent survey found that over 80 percent of nurses have had to cover for a co-worker who was too exhausted to work their entire shift. With breaks coming fewer-and-farther between, your body simply never gets a chance to recuperate during those long days.

Isn't that unhealthy?

Absolutely. Not only is living with fatigue bad for your health, it can also raise the chances of an accident happening on the job, whether to you or caused by your fatigue. Driving drowsy can pose even more problems when you are finally on the way home. Fatigue can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to all those viruses you are exposed to as part of your job.

Whether you are talking about maintaining focus, caring for your patients or caring for your family, there is no question that your sleep deficit can contribute to a host of potential problems.

How can it get better?

While administrators are constantly trying to balance the books, it is important that all the nurses bring their concerns to the attention of those responsible for the schedule and the workplace environment. It is important that you receive your much needed breaks, sufficient off-time between shifts and access to health and wellness programs to help you get the sleep needed to be your best every time you clock in.

The next time you are struggling to find the time for an 8-hour date with your bed, take a good look at your work and life schedule and work with your employer to find a better way to keep you healthy, which will ultimately result in improved patient care.

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