by Mary Fernando
Patient-satisfaction survey. “This somehow became the fault of the nurse and ended up being placed in her personnel file.”
Surveys used to assess nurses also ask questions like, “During this hospital stay, after you pressed the call button, how often did you get help as soon as you wanted it?”
Hospitals with high patient-satisfaction scores get more money, so nurses are under pressure to do everything they can to make patients happy.
Also in the news: “Forty-nine percent of registered nurses under 30 and 40 percent of registered nurses over 30 experience burnout, according to one study — a sobering statistic for healthcare providers who want to improve patient care.”
These two things are related.
“Nurses are not waitresses or waiters,” says Nurse Smith, who has been a floor nurse and is now a nurse educator. “I see nurses as sentinels. A sentinel stands guard and is constantly on alert.
“When a nurse walks into a patient’s room, there are a hundred things going through their mind. They are looking at monitors, carefully selecting which ones are important given the patient’s disease and treatment. They need to understand not just the physiology but the pathophysiology of the disease so that they can assess the patient and monitor their progress or decline.
“If an elderly demented patient starts to act a little wonky, is it just the waxing and waning of their dementia? Could it be some form of a hypoxia, perhaps a stroke? They need to have the assessment abilities to know if this could be a serious issue, when to call in the doctor and which tests could help clarify what is happening with the patient.
“They also need to assess when patients need more time. And it is not always the loudest patient. It may be the very ill patient whose blood pressure is dropping and a good nurse needs to attend to them.”
The name of the game is not patient satisfaction - it’s patient safety.
So, surveys asking patients if the nurse came when they were called are completely inappropriate. The nurse must be given the clinical respect to make decisions about which patient needs attending to urgently and which patient can wait. What matters is did the patient get better? Did that nurse monitor and save lives of the very ill first? Even if some patients had to wait for ice chips.
Nurse Jonathon - a nurse with over a decade of experience in the emergency room, critical care and in management - explains that numerous issues contribute to burnout in nurses.
“There are often too few nurses per patient and that is not safe,” says Nurse Jonathon. He points out that in an emergency room there could be a number of patients that should be admitted to the ICU but are waiting for a bed. These patients require constant care but there may be six to 9 other patients, or more, that the nurse needs to watch over and care for.
‘We are the ones who monitor patients,” says Nurse Jonathan, “No one else but your nurse monitors you 24/7. Everything from heart rates to breathing to blood pressure. We constantly assess patients.
“Most nurses have a passion for excellence and we want to get everything right. If something happens to our patient, we can’t stop. We must move on and take care of the next patient. We can’t stop for a second. These are peoples’ lives.
“Hospitals don't help staff to cope with these feelings. A debriefing would help. To understand what happened.”
Nurse Smith explains, “As the patient goes through their journey in hospital, it’s the goal of the nurse to help them advance every shift - to get home or at least get better. At the change of shift, it’s like a relay race - you pass the baton to the next nurse who continues the journey.”
Handing off your patients and doing so safely is one thing. But what if you are handing over too many patients for the next nurse to handle? Worry. Because all good sentinels watch and keep those they stand guard over safe.
Many surveys demand nurses do a job that has no resemblance to the job they were trained to do. Nurses feel the pressure to do certain things to get good scores on these surveys. Ultimately though, nurses want to do their real job. The one they were trained to do. They want to keep watch over patients to keep them safe, to intervene when they need to and to have enough time to do this job well. They were trained as no one else is to do their job.
Letting nurses do their job, having enough nurses to do the work safely and having an opportunity to debrief from stress would go a long way to reducing burnout. Oh, and holding the Splenda comments.
Note: The real names of the nurses were not used. Both practice in the United States.