It’s not every day you get emotional during an interview, especially when it’s with a hospital CIO. But this one was different.
A few weeks ago, Ed Marx was kind enough to speak with us about his recent cancer journey. Being his usual candid self, he talked about how he broke the news to his team, what the experience taught him about his own organization, and why giving back is so important to him.
It was enlightening, to say the least. But one part really got to me – and Ed as well, judging from the way his voice seemed to break a bit. It was when he talked about a nurse who, sensing his wife Simran’s growing frustration, walked over and gave her a hug.
“No words were expressed. It was genuine, warm, human emotion,” he said. “That went so much further than saying ‘I’m sorry’ or making an excuse. She didn’t have to say anything.”
And she certainly didn’t have to provide comfort to the family member of a patient, but she did. This nurse read the situation and reacted “with kindness and grace.”
To anyone who has spent time in the care of nurses, this comes as no surprise. As a former NICU mom, I can attest that although it was a physician who performed my emergency C-section 7 years ago, it was the nurses who cared for my babies, and for me. They were the ones who helped me take a shower and taught me how to maneuver the wires in the isolette so I could change their diapers. I still remember the nurse who stood with me while a pediatric cardiologist listened to my tiny daughter’s heart murmur, and the one who (literally) chased down food services when I had missed my chance to order breakfast.
So many of us have similar stories of nurses who, despite facing difficult situations on a regular basis, still manage to put patients – and their families – first.
And so, when I hear them voicing frustration to each other about things like faulty equipment or clunky documentation systems, it really bothers me. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be eavesdropping while I’m in a physician’s office, but I can’t help it — not when I work in this field). In fact, during a recent appointment, the nurse who was taking my vitals had to stop in the middle of her workflow to deal with a technical issue.
“New system?” I asked, having already told her what I do for a living.
“Yup,” she said. “Apparently it’s going to be great… once we’re all trained on it. And the bugs are all worked out.” She smiled while rolling her eyes, but was unable to mask her annoyance, and I don’t blame her one bit.
Unfortunately, incidents like this are far from isolated, and it’s starting to take a toll on a workforce that’s already endured quite a bit. According to PRC’s National Nursing Engagement Report, 16 percent of nurses reported feelings of burnout, while 41 percent said they felt “unengaged,” meaning they don’t feel part of a team with colleagues, experience diminished morale, and feel emotionally checked out from their work.
Not surprisingly, the study’s authors – Cynthia King and Lee Ann Bradley – found a statistical correlation between nursing engagement and patient experience. The more supported nurses feel, the better they can care for patients, they noted.
Some believe frustration is even more widespread, especially among younger nurses. According to one study, nearly half of nurses under age 30 experience burnout, and one-third of all nurses report an emotional exhaustion score of 27 or higher, which is considered to be “high burnout.”
Not only is this bad in terms of outcomes, as stressed out nurses are “more likely to make poor decisions,” but it can also led to higher turnover, which is the last thing hospital administrators want to hear. In my home state (NJ) alone, researchers predict there could be a shortage of 40,000 nurses by 2020. And as more nurses work overtime to fill this deficit, you guess it: burnout rates could soar.
So what can leaders do? According to King and Bradley, the following actions can help ensure nurses feel supported and engaged:
- Involve nursing leaders and professionals as active participants in decisions that impact patient care, as well as the organization.
- Foster an environment of respect, teamwork, and collaboration between nurses and other healthcare professionals.
- Make yourself accessible to nurses and be responsive to their needs.
“Having trusting relationships between nursing and the senior leadership of an organization is critical,” they wrote.
This, of course, is easier said than done. But the more leaders can do to alleviate the frustration that nurses so often feel, the better off all of us will be.