Nurses are loved.
It’s easy to understand why.
They are counselors, comforters, confidants and great listeners — and they see patients and their families through the toughest times.
Nurses are indispensable to healthcare delivery today, using crucial thinking skills to come up with the best outcomes for patients.
Gallup Organization polls consistently list nursing as one of the nation’s most trusted professions.
But nurses pay a huge price for their service.
Research shows that, on average, nurses are less healthy than the general public. They are more likely to be overweight, have higher levels of stress and get less sleep.
Heavy lifting that the job requires makes nurses seven times more susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries like back pain.
Some nurses are subjected to violence on the job. Some report bullying and harassment from physicians and administrators.
Workplace violence against nurses appears to be trending upward. Between 2012 and 2014, workplace violence for nurses and nursing assistants doubled, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In addition, 41 percent of nurses reported in a survey by RN Networks they had been bullied or harassed by managers or administrators. Another 43 percent said they didn’t have a healthy work/life balance.
Nurses are also susceptible to infections in the workplace. They face a number of workplace hazards each day, including exposure to blood-borne pathogens and cold and flu germs.
A University of Maryland School of Nursing survey of 2,100 nurses found that 55 percent were obese. Job stress and irregular work hours and meal breaks are prime contributing causes.
The health challenges confronted by nurses on the job are a threat to the smooth operations of our healthcare system and to the health of all Americans.
That’s why the healthcare industry, organizations of professional healthcare workers and our nursing schools must pay more attention to the physical and mental health of nurses.
Together, we all must step up efforts to steer nurses toward healthier lifestyles and to lessen their burdens by creating safer work environments.
The nation’s 3.6 million nurses are the single biggest segment of the healthcare workforce. Healthy nurses translate into better outcomes for patients and a healthier America.
Unhealthy nurses are more prone to job dissatisfaction and burnout.
Dissatisfied and burned-out nurses are more likely to leave jobs in acute care settings (which employ approximately two-thirds of all nurses) or hospitals.
Some are forced to leave the profession altogether.
This trend is problematic.
It’s not new that the United States has been confronting a nursing shortage for years, sparked by the graying of the nursing profession, a shortage of seats in nursing schools, a dearth of nursing faculty and increased demand to care for America’s rapidly aging population.
Nearly 70,000 nursing school applicants are turned away each year because there is an insufficient number of seats in our schools.
We cannot afford to lose more nurses at a time when demand for registered nurses is failing to keep pace with supply.
Burned-out nurses put patients at risk. An American Journal of Infection Control study of Pennsylvania hospitals found a significant correlation between nurse burnout and increased infections among patients.
That’s why the American Nurses Association’s “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge” is crucial.
Launched this week during National Nurses Week, the bold initiative works with employers, health organizations and nurses to improve health in five areas: nutrition, rest, physical activity, quality of life and safety.
But it needs to be more than just a launch.
It should be a planned, determined multi-year effort with time lines and goals that are objective, realistic and achievable.
Our health care industry will be better for it.
So will our entire country.
Anne Bavier is dean of the University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation and president of the National League for Nursing.