What Do You Think? –Are We Working Nurses To Death?

Did that question grab your attention? It sure did mine as I was scrolling Facebook and came across a nurse friend's shared post. The title grabbed me and I instantly spent some time reading the article as well as our mutual nurse friends' comments which all seemed to agree that sadly the answer is yes, we are working our nurses to death.

One part, in particular, stood out and it's a subject all nurses can attest to: staffing levels.

"Minimum is maximum staffing,” Letvak says. “We don’t have any easy days anymore. If the [patient load] is low, which happens all the time, they send the nurses home, instead of them having a light afternoon. How few do we need? That’s all that you’re getting. Every time you are at work, it is a bad day. There really isn’t a chance of having a lighter day anymore.”

Other highlights from the article include:

  • "Nurses do the work that neither hospitals nor patients could live without, which comes at an ever-increasing physical and emotional cost, as they are expected to aid sicker patients for longer hours with less support."
  • "Nearly a quarter of hospital and nursing home nurses aren’t satisfied with their jobs, according to one study, and more than a third feel burned out. “Burnout is an occupational hazard in nursing,” says Jeanne Geiger-Brown, dean at Stevenson University's School of Nursing and Health Professions. “It is hard to generate a lot of caring about other people, because you are so depleted yourself.”
  • “What’s causing the overwork is the increased acuity of patients,” says Susan Letvak, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Nursing. “You are only in a hospital if you are so acutely sick that you can barely move. The minute you can move, you are kicked out the door.”
  • "The push is to get everybody out of the hospital as fast as we can,” echoes Bernadette Melnyk, dean of the College of Nursing at the Ohio State University and the university's Chief Wellness Officer. Melnyk and her colleagues recently published a paper that shows depression among nurses is associated with both burnout and medical errors."
  • "How does the quicker and sicker approach add up for nurses? Physically, it means the shifts themselves are much harder, especially since shifts are often twelve hours to begin with, which itself is a risk factor for burnout and mistakes in a place where patient alarms are constantly sounding. “It’s not healthy for the nurses, it's not safe for the patients,” Melnyk says."
  • “Minimum is maximum staffing,” Letvak says. “We don’t have any easy days anymore. If the [patient load] is low, which happens all the time, they send the nurses home, instead of them having a light afternoon. How few do we need? That’s all that you’re getting. Every time you are at work, it is a bad day. There really isn’t a chance of having a lighter day anymore.”
  • "Overworking nurses extinguishes their lifesaving impact. Aiken and her team have shown elsewhere that every ten percent increase in the proportion of nurses with bachelor’s degrees lowers the risk of death for patients by five percent. A study by a different group found that a 10 percent increase in registered nursing staff saves five lives for every 1,000 people discharged. (If five saved lives doesn’t sound like a lot, try replacing “five” with five names of your loved ones.)"


You can read the article in its entirety here. Take a look and then add your thoughts in the comments section below.


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1 year ago

Long time ago when health care facilities / hospital were in charge of the money life was better for patients and staff – Now that insurance companies took charge of the money look what is happening.
Hope government doesn’t take charge or it will be worse and patients will suffer.

1 year ago

Reading all the comments from senior nurses hits the nail on the head!!!! I have been a nurse for 39 years and brother am I ready to retire! Nursing back in the day was enjoyable, now the managers and administrators could care less about staff satisfaction, it’s all about the bottom line, money! Years of nursing experience mean nothing, a BSN is becoming a mandatory job requirement, paying for your BSN is not cheap. Will the money invested in obtaining a BSN be worth it if nurses are so burned out they leave nursing? My senior, experienced nursing friends are… Read more »

2 years ago

Try working in a nursing home taking care of 23 to 28 patients…
Co morbities, obese mental health issues drug and alcohol abuse
Sometimes with 10 diabetics
You do all the meds tx assessments and charting….
With no help..
The CNAs have 12 to 15 patients a piece..
Yeah we are getting burned out but not as bad as in a nursing home….

Dee, RN
2 years ago

I have been an RN for 30 plus years – and yes – nurses are being worked to death! The sad part is, nobody cares. When you fall over dead, they will kick you out of the way – and forge on. I work in critical care, and I am the “last man standing” as far as being a “knowledgeable, wise, skilled, senior nurse” – all the other older nurses have retired or moved on. We hire the young ones – but, they only put up with the crap we do for a couple of years and then they move… Read more »

2 years ago

It is an entire system failure. For profit healthcare is a conflict of interest… from the direct care to the insurance companies. Unionize. Yes, unions have their own issues- but federally MANDATED staffing levels- like the CA model. Don’t leave it to the states. Must be federal mandate. For-profit healthcare systems have the $ to hire lobbyists. We need to unionize and have our own powerful lobbyists. If decision is left to the states- it’s like a divide and conquer strategy. We are fractionated with many diff nursing organizations. So keep the diff organizations since each have their focus- but… Read more »

Mark Tomlinson
2 years ago

A bedside nurse for 30+ yrs(ICU/PACU) To be honest, I’m not a happy camper anymore. If I could find anything-(someone would pay me close to what I make now)- I’d toss my lisc. in the toilet and walk. It comes down to: Profit vs Care-with us in the middle. I wanted to save the world-way back then(not make administrators rich). Now at 60-Drawing SS and living on potted meat & alcohol- doesn’t sound that bad at all.

Kasey RN
2 years ago

I can already feel the burn out after working for almost 2 years in a hospital system that gets the sick of the sick because “we’re one of the best.” Our patients are mostly surgical stepdown patients but we’re not considered a step down. We recently changed our staffing grid and it is really hurting our nurses and patients. Most of our nurses are 5:1 on day shift and 6:1 on night shift. I work 3 days plus one day of overtime a week because that’s the only way I can pay all my bills. I’m so tired I can’t… Read more »

2 years ago

After a particular my hard shift in the ER, being short staffed as usual, I left work exhausted. I fell asleep driving home, and woke up just in time to avoid hitting a cement median. When I got home I wrote out my resignation. 34 years in the emergency department was enough. I wound up teaching clinicals in a nursing program. I love it. No job is worth killing yourself for.

Stephany Adkins
2 years ago

I am a home health nurse and can also relate. We get very sick patients out of the hospitals. Usually they can’t even get up to the bathroom without help. It’s really scary. We have even less resources available in the home. If a patient goes home with no one we are scrambling to get the social worker out there immediately, usually on a Friday afternoon late!!! The patients suffer the most.

Debbie F.
2 years ago

Sadly all the above is true. I have been a nurse for over 27 years only to see things like “nurse burn out” go from minimal to extremely common! My own solution is to just say, “NO!” to working extra on my off days and “NO!” to having second prn jobs. The extra money would be nice and I would love to help my co-workers out when short staffed(which seems like every day). I have resigned to just working on the days that I am scheduled. I use my off days to rejuvenate, re-energize, and take care of me! I… Read more »

Grace Metoxen RN
2 years ago

I gave my body to my profession so yes, we are getting worked to death, including physically. I have been hit and had my fingers & wrist bent back & sprained by patients, slipped a disc lifting 200# + patients (no help in home care), fallen & messed up both knees. I was retired with a failed knee replacement. Do you think anyone in management cared? Nope, just work the next nurse to death. I love my profession & the appreciation from my patients & their families is what kept me going for 40 years. But I am now unable… Read more »

Wanda Purvis
2 years ago

I was a ICU nurse, my last jobs was in a rural ICU/intermediate unit; I spent over 44 plus years in my career. After my last job, the long commute, only 3 12 shifts a week, and the time of commute pre and post, as well as never finishing up my shift on time of 14-16 hours/days, it became too much. I am a baby boomer, and I hung in there with the new generation , pulled my load and more , was appalled at the care I seen, found, followed in this job. Countless communication to management, in one… Read more »

2 years ago

I work in a rehab and long term facility and the story is the same. My group I began with is left with just 2 of us out of an initial number of nine. Staffing is a terrible headache, with lots of call outs. This make it just too hard on the nurses available. The burnout is taking a heavy toll on us.

2 years ago

Here’s the saddest thing of all: None of this is new! I will soon have 34 years of it (will NOT be finishing the 35th because, like my middle-aged colleague above- and unlike her, I’m older – my body is virtually done with it). And they keep asking more. Minimum staff IS the max. Hospitals say they are ‘evidence-based’ systems, so the evidence being used must be purely economic. Part of this is insurance driven, part is political, and part is greed. We are like the soldiers sent into a made-up war designed to benefit a wealthy few, executing the… Read more »

2 years ago

I have not worked in 3years and it is no better now than then, maybe even worse. First of all most units are short staffed, so nurses end up taking care of more patients than they should. You get called on your day off to see if you can work or you have mandatory overtime. It is too bad organizations do not see the need to try and have adequate staffing. This would increase nurse satisfaction. I worked for 35years and my first years of nursing were very satisfying. I retired early because it was just too much, no work… Read more »

Ladyveteran TJ
2 years ago

I work in a clinic. We are understaffed right now as it takes, literally, months to get a new person hired. We are also tasked to work in the lab. Mind you we are RN’s and LPN’s but we draw, rest, spin, separate and bag for transport to the lab the next day, this includes urine, stool, mucus or whatever. We do, finally, have a position advertised for a lab person (I’ve been there almost 3 years and this is the first time they have advertised the position.). Again, from advertise to person actually working in the clinic is usually… Read more »

Barbara Steen
2 years ago

I loved being a nurse, for 26 of my 29 years ,I worked in the same hospital, mostly critical care. But when I spent more time charting than doing patient care, when physicians were no longer capable or reliable and every day brought 100s of e-mails adding more expectations and hurdles to jump, I resigned.So happy to be out.

2 years ago

It does not matter where you work hospital, dialysis, out patient clinic. The nurse staffing is just getting worse wherever you go. I will not encourage any one to get into nursing unless they want to be over worked, cranky
and feel like they should have done more. This is not a good feeling.

2 years ago

CEO’s of non profits getting seven figure salaries plus bonuses. RN’s burn out and leave, easily replaced with fresh grads. Bottom line is all that matters. Overworked and tired, make a mistake and under the bus you go. Scariest word “union”.

2 years ago

Call outs are frequent at my job. If you are the charge nurse and no coverage can be found, then you are forced to work over 4 hours and the charge nurse on the next shift must come in 4 hours early. We are already short staffed to begin with. Our Director of Nursing does nothing to help out on the floor. She does her time, then she’s out of there! She always crams teamwork down our throats! She doesn’t practice what she preaches.

2 years ago

Agree, agree. i used to think badly of nurses that would tell me don’t do it -don’t go to nursing school. Now I wish I would have listened to their advice. It gets worse every year.

Marcia James
2 years ago

This article says it all! There are no more light days , every day is a tough day. it is true we are always operating with minimal staff.

Ellen C., RN
2 years ago

As an Operating Room Nurse, we not only work our full shifts, we are expected to take call nights & weekends. It’s tough working my shift, being up several times during the night, then be back bright & cheery for the next day. Our weekends literally worked one of my colleagues to death: we were on call for the entire 48 hours. My friend had done so many surgeries during the weekend, that she fell asleep on her way to do another case, hit a tree, & died. After that, they cut our weekends to just 24 hours. My surg… Read more »

Joanne Tallmadge
2 years ago

These are the reasons I left nursing, and I was a good one- awards up my arse, but of course no increase in pay! 12 hour shifts are the scourge of nursing- Superman would not be the same nurse at 7am as at 7 pm- lunacy aa it puts lives at risk!. God help the poor patient who tanks at 6 pm!! I was in hospital nursing in ICU/Telemetry for 33 years. Every single staff meeting (whenever we rarely had one) was identical- just rewind the tape- nurses screaming about horrible staffing, and management saying they are doing all they… Read more »

Suzanne Dunham, RN
2 years ago

I just read the title and didn’t really have to go any further because…DUH! We always here about the ‘nursing shortage’. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal than it’s made out to be. I just think we have a huge shortage of nurses who want to work in hospitals because of all the reasons in this article. I have gone into Case Management and now at a state psych hospital. I sometimes miss my days in the ED. 12 hour shifts at a Level 1 trauma center in a city are brutal. Then call outs and covering… Read more »

Katherine Whitley
2 years ago

Let me just say that staffing to the minimum should be a criminal offense. Nurses are running their asses off, trying to do ten things at once, all of which are crucial to either a patient’s health, life or well-being, or a matter of making sure you and/or your facility don’t get sued, so it’s CRITICAL that you don’t make a mistake. You are set up for a huge chance of failure, and then are told how you NEED to manage your time better, or else. No one at the top cares, and everyone as high up as you can… Read more »

Ann Shankar
2 years ago

Ooooh yes. More so much more is expected of nurses. Somehow people think they can pile the work on and some more on top of that! Administrators don’t listen to staff , they don’t know anything about patients care. Administrators are rewarded for holding back on nurses overtime, and any other benefit because they think it reflects badly on their management, when in fact, hospitals are understaffed, overworked, and unappreciated!