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Staffing Ratios and Burnout

Vuong, Linda BSN, RN, CCRN

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AJN, American Journal of Nursing: May 2020 - Volume 120 - Issue 5 - p 13
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000662724.83879.81
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The recent National Academy of Medicine (NAM) report Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being found that 35% to 54% of U.S. nurses and physicians exhibit substantial burnout symptoms (“Restoring a Burned-Out Workforce,” AJN Reports, February).1 Despite the NAM citing higher nurse-to-patient ratios as one of the factors associated with nurse burnout, none of its six goals for reducing burnout address staffing ratios.

The NAM defines burnout along three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. All three dimensions of nurse burnout can be addressed by lowering staffing ratios to allow nurses the time and energy they need to truly care for patients and families and build rapport with them. As an ICU nurse who has worked at the bedside in both Oklahoma, a state without staffing ratios, and California, the only state with a nurse-to-patient ratio law, I have experienced firsthand how organizations with mandated staffing ratios lessen burnout by reducing nurses' workloads. This also translates into better care, because it affords nurses more uninterrupted time with patients and families.

One way the NAM could support lower nurse-to-patient ratios, thereby addressing nurse burnout, would be to support HR 2581, the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last year. This federal nurse staffing law would allow nurses and patients across the United States to benefit from the same lower nurse-to-patient ratios as those in California.

Linda Vuong, BSN, RN, CCRN

Sacramento, CA

REFERENCE

1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Taking action against clinician burnout: a systems approach to professional well-being. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2019. Consensus study report; https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25521/taking-action-against-clinician-burnout-a-systems-approach-to-professional.
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