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Better Nurse to Patient Ratios = Less Stress? Not Necessarily. #artofnursingMany nurses cite unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios as the primary culprit behind their job stress. Last year, thousands of nurses even gathered in Washington D.C. with the purpose of calling attention to the plight of nurses and unsafe staffing ratios. Nurses feel overworked by the number of patients they are charged to care for and the ever rising acuity of those patients. Although most nurses believe that hiring more nurses will fix the problem, an article by Alan Yu, quotes Linda Aiken, a professor of nursing and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on nurse staffing. In this article Aiken suggests that simply adding more staff alone won’t necessarily solve the issue, saying “If the work environment at a particular hospital is bad, just adding more nurses won’t address the problem”.

Organizations will bend to the eventual impact of staffing ratios when their patient reviews reflect poor experiences because of under-staffing. This costs them money. They may also bend when patient mortality increases. But until those points of impact are felt, nurses may only have their own reaction to staffing challenges to help them cope with their stress.

  • Focus on Goals, Not Gossip. The principle goal is patient care and doing it to the best of your ability. You may have further goals of pursuing further education or a better position, and keeping these in mind helps you move forward in the toughest of circumstances sometimes. Count a tough time at work as something you are working to change. Keep your goals foremost in your mind, and you won’t have time to get caught up in drama and gossip.
  • Appreciate the Positive. When you set a goal to see the good, you’ll see more than you thought was possible. Just as changing a frame on a picture often improves the look of the picture, changing the frame on the picture you see at work, will improve the way work looks to you. You’ll be surprised at what you see and how it can lower your stress level. Conversely, if you focus on the negative, you’ll see greater negativity and drive your stress level up.
  • Offer Solutions. It’s very easy to complain, but if you want to feel heard and have a stake in what the solution will look like, offer solutions. Rather than settle for what may or may not be a solution you can live with, share possibilities on how to fix the problems. Empower yourself and don’t depend on a management team to have all the answers. Organizations often implement staff-led innovations because the staff often knows what is needed more than the management team.
  • Join up. There are committees, projects, studies, research and so much more in an organization that helps you feel more in control of your work environment. Think about your strengths and interests and find an activity that makes the best use of your talents. Putting your head together with other like-minded people, discussing options and tossing ideas around, can help you design stronger solutions to issues facing the nursing staff.

What did we miss? I’d love to hear how you deal with the stress high nurse-to-patient ratios causes. Leave a tip in the comments section below! And thanks for reading!

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RNAbout the Author: Keynote speaker and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the bestselling author of ‘Nursing from Within’, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.


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