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Overworked Nurses Are Hurting Patient Care and Outcomes

Ben Cole, for HealthLeaders Media, July 14, 2009

A survey of nurses from all over the globe has found that nurses believe heavy workloads, coupled with insufficient staff, are impacting patient care and outcomes.

The International Council of Nurses and Pfizer Inc. External Medical Affairs collaborated on the survey of 2,203 nurses in 11 countries, including Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Japan, Kenya, Portugal, South Africa, Taiwan, Uganda, the UK, and the United States.

Most significantly, the survey found that 92% of respondents face time constraints that prevent them spending necessary time with individual patients. In addition, 96% said that spending more time with individual patients would have a significant impact on patient health.

"Nurses are key patient advocates and have always been patient-focused," said Paula DeCola, RN, from the office of the Chief Medical Officer at Pfizer, Inc. External Medical Affairs, in a statement. "The research shows that for nurses, the most favorable aspect of their profession is indeed patient contact."

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • Nearly half of nurses (46%) say their workload is worse today compared to five years ago
  • The nurses surveyed were most concerned with heavy workloads (42%), insufficient pay and benefits (22%), a lack of recognition for their work (15%), and too much bureaucracy (13%).
  • Nursing as a career is viewed as worse today than it was five years ago in Canada (52%), the U.S. (46%), Taiwan (45%), and the UK (39%). But nurses in Kenya (71%), Brazil (64%), and South Africa (63%) were more likely to see their roles improving over this time.
  • When asked to rate the likelihood they will still practice nursing in five years, 53% say it is "very likely." However, the commitment varies by country: Nurses in Portugal (77%), Brazil (75%), Canada (71%), and the U.S. (68%) say they are very likely to stay in nursing for the next five years, while nurses in Kenya (38%), South Africa (33%), Taiwan (33%), and Uganda (32%), say they are less likely to do so.

The survey also found that nurses would like to expand their healthcare responsibilities, including the authority to prescribe medicines to patients. Eight in ten (83%) nurses surveyed say they currently do not have the authority to prescribe medicines to patients, but seven in ten (70%) say they want nurses to have this authority. Nurses in Colombia (61%), the U.S. (59%) and Taiwan (57%) are most likely to oppose nurses having this authority, while those in Kenya (94%), the UK (87%), Canada (87%), Uganda (84%), and South Africa (83%) are most in favor of it.

The research shows that having greater independence and control over their practice area, sufficient staff, greater involvement in decisions impacting their work and patient care, and improved work-life balance have a significant impact on the likelihood that nurses from across the globe will remain in nursing, according to the survey authors.

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