Tag Archives: nursing

Fatigue III: Impact On Nurses

Although 8-hour shifts are the most common work arrangement around the country in all most occupations, they are a bit less common in nursing. Nurses have work and sleep patterns equivalent to prehospital providers. And critical care nurses probably have the most variable and punishing work patterns.

One may think that just increasing to a 12-hour shift is not that big of a deal. The nursing school at the University of Auckland performed their own survey of ICU nurses in two separate hospitals in New Zealand. They administered the Occupational Fatigue Exhaustion/Recovery Scale and evaluated differences in relation to a number of demographic variables.

Here are the factoids:

  • There were a total of 67 participants in the two hospitals and all worked 12-hour shifts.
  • Nurses at one hospital (A) worked mostly day or mostly night shifts and tended to be younger. Shifts were more mixed at the other (B).
  • About half of the nurses reported low to moderate fatigue acutely, and two thirds re-ported this level between shifts as well.
  • Factors that correlated with increased fatigue were younger age, fewer children, less years of experience, and less exercise.
  • Higher fatigue levels were reported at hospital A, which had the younger, less experienced nurses.

Bottom line: This is another survey study, but it does illustrate some common issues. Some factors could be changed by rearranging the shift structure to all day or all night shifts. Exercise was associated with less stress and could be encouraged. But the nature and pace of work in the ICU remains constant and is difficult to control for. Some strategies for positive change are listed on the next page of the newsletter.

In my next post, I’ll review the impact of sleep problems on trauma surgeons and residents.

Reference: Exploring the impact of 12-hour shifts on nurse fatigue in intensive care. Applied Nurs Res 50:151191, Dec 2019.

Nursing Tips for Managing Pediatric Orthopedic Trauma

Nurses have a complementary role with physicians in caring for children with orthopedic injuries. Typically, the child will have been evaluated and had some sort of fracture management implemented. In children, nursing management is easer than in adults since a child is less likely to need an invasive surgical procedure. Many fractures can be dealt with using casts and splints alone.

Here are a few tips for providing the best care for your pediatric patients:

  • Ensure adequate splinting / casting. You will have an opportunity to see the child at their usual level of activity. If it appears likely that their activity may defeat the purpose of the cast or splint, inform the surgeon or extender so they can apply a better one.
  • Focus on pain control. Nothing aggravates parents more than seeing their child in pain! Make sure acetominophen or ibuprofen is available prn if pain is very mild, or scheduled if more significant. Ensure that mild narcotics are available if pain levels are higher. Remember, stool softeners are mandatory if narcotics are given.
  • Monitor compartments frequently. If a cast is used, check the distal part of the extremity for pain, unwillingness to move, numbness or swelling. If any are present, call the physician or extender and expect prompt attention to the problem.
  • Always think about the possibility of abuse. Fractures are rarely seen in children under 3, and almost never if less than 1 year old. If you have concerns about the physical findings or parent interactions, let the physician and social workers know immediately.

Nurses: Stop The Insanity! What To Do When The Doc Won’t Listen

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

– Albert Einstein

This post applies specifically to nurses. I know it’s happened to you. Your patient is having a problem. You do a little troubleshooting, but you feel that a doctor needs to know and possibly take some action. So you page them and duly note it in the medical record. No response. You do it again, and document it. No response. And a third time, with the same result.

And now what? Call someone else? Give up and hope the patient improves?

What if the doctor on call is a known asshole? Are you even reluctant to call in the first place? Do you delay as long as you possibly can?

Believe it or not, I’ve seen many chart review cases over the years where this situation does arise. And every once in a while, the patient actually dies. Sometimes this is directly related to the lack of intervention, but sometimes it just sets the ball rolling that eventually leads to patient demise days or weeks later.

What’s the answer? We all want to provide the best care possible for our patients. But sometimes social factors (or pager malfunctions) just get in the way. Here’s how to deal with it.

Every hospital / nursing unit needs to have a procedure for escalating patient care calls to more advanced providers. When one of your patients develops a problem, you usually have a pretty good idea of what the possible solutions are. So call/page the proper person (PA/NP/MD) who can provide that solution. If they don’t give you the “right answer”, then question it. They are not all-knowing.

If they give you a good explanation, go with it, but keep your eye on your patient’s progress. If they can’t explain why they are giving you the wrong answer, suggest they check with someone more senior. And if they don’t want to, let them know that you will have to. Consider no answer the same as a wrong answer.

Don’t stop going up the chain of command until you get that right answer, or an explanation that satisfies you. The hard part here is going up the chain. You may not be comfortable with this. But you do have resources that can help you that have more authority (nurse manager, supervisor, etc). If they, too, are uncomfortable, then your hospital has much bigger problems (unhealthy workplace). 

Example: trauma unit nurses at my hospital will call the first year resident first, then escalate to the junior and/or chief residents. If they don’t do the right thing, the in-house trauma attending gets the call. If they don’t handle it, then the trauma medical director (me) gets called. And, of course, I always do the right thing (chuckle). And our nurses know that the surgeons support them completely, since this facilitates the best patient care. The residents and PAs are educated about this chain of command when they first start on the trauma service, and it makes them more likely to choose the “right answer” since they know the buck may not stop with them.

EAST 2016: Nursing Interruptions In The SICU

A few papers have been published in the nursing
literature about the detrimental effects of interruptions experienced during
patient care. Unfortunately, these papers have never taken the next step to
determine why they occur, and what steps can be taken to decrease the frequency
of this problem.

A group at Wright State in Dayton OH tried to
tease apart the various aspects of this issue. They observed registered nurses
in a 23 bed SICU at a Level I trauma center. A total of 25 sessions covering 75
hours and multiple nurses were analyzed for the cause and duration of any interruption,
and whether it caused a switch from their primary task.

Here are the factoids:

  • Nurses were interrupted every 18
    on average
  • The dominant location was in the patient room (58%), and the most
    common activity interrupted was documentation
  • Interruption by an attending or resident was less frequent (10%), but
    ended up being longer than interruptions by other nurses (3 mins vs 1 min)
  • Interruptions of longer duration more commonly
    caused the nurse to switch tasks

Frequency (left) and duration
(right) of interruptions from each source. CL = call light, ECD = electronic
communication device

line: This is a first look at the anatomy of nursing interruptions in the SICU.
They are much more common than you think. Task switching (either mentally or
physically) is something that humans do poorly. It always degrades performance,
and can ultimately lead to patient harm. Hopefully, operational protocols can
be developed to protect nurses from unnecessary or non-urgent interruptions to
improve quality of care.

The anatomy of nursing interruptions in a surgical intensive care unit at a
trauma center. EAST 2016 Poster abstract #18.