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Critical Care Nurses with Compromised Health are Making Medical Errors

— May 7, 2021

When nurses are under constant stress, they experience burnout and this leads to medical errors, study suggests.

An Ohio State University College of Nursing study has found that critical care nurses with compromised physical and mental health reported significantly more medical errors than those in good health.  The study, conducted before the onset of COVID-19, also found that “nurses who perceived that their worksite was very supportive of their well-being were twice as likely to have better physical health.”  The research team published their findings in the American Journal of Critical Care.

“It’s critically important that we understand some of the root causes that lead to those errors and do everything we can to prevent them,” said lead author Bernadette Melnyk, vice president for health promotion, chief wellness officer and dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State.

The authors took a look at previously published findings regarding stress, anxiety, depression and burnout among critical care nurses, and designed a new study surveying 800 members of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, a nonprofit association and the world’s largest specialty nursing organization that includes acute and critical care nurses.

Critical Care Nurses with Compromised Health are Making Medical Errors
Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy from Pexels

Specific results reports included: “Of those surveyed, 61% reported suboptimal physical health, while 51% reported suboptimal mental health; Approximately 40% screened positive for depressive symptoms and more than 50% screened positive for anxiety; Those who reported worse health and well-being had between a 31% to 62% higher likelihood of making medical errors; Nurses who reported working in places that provided greater support for wellness were more than twice as likely to have better personal health and professional quality of life.”

“I pushed down my emotions so long, and kind of brushed them off, and when it finally started causing burnout, it would affect my sleep, and my home life, my life outside of work, as well as my life at work,” said Jessica Curtisi, a critical care nurse with Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The nursing profession has grown even more vital since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic has deemed healthcare personnel to be essential workers.  There is a shortage in those available to meet the call of caring for those infected.  Many nurses have also been tasked with administering the COVID-19 vaccine.  It’s difficult to keep up with schedule demands, and they are often working around the clock.

“It’s clear that critical care nurses, like so many other clinicians, cannot continue to pour from an empty cup,” Melnyk said. “System problems that contribute to burnout and poor health need to be fixed.  Nurses need support and investment in evidence-based programming and resources that enhance their well-being and equip them with resiliency so they can take optimal care of patients…A lot of nurses like 12-hour shifts, but we have a body of evidence to show they’re not healthy for nurses nor healthcare quality and safety.”

She added that patients can help in increasing nurse’s mental health, saying, “Gratitude is one of the simplest evidence-based practices, that if we all get into the habit of using daily, it would decrease our stress and improve mood.”


Study: Nurses’ physical, mental health connected to preventable medical errors

American Association of Critical Care Nurses

Ohio State study shows burnout among critical care nurses

Study: Nurses’ physical, mental health connected to preventable medical errors

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