Long nurse shifts lead to burnout, patient dissatisfaction

Long hours don't just make for unhappy nurses; they make for unhappy patients, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

In the first study that examines nurse work hours and patient perceptions of care, according to researchers, long work hours not only lead to hospital nurse burnout and job dissatisfaction but also patient dissatisfaction.

Researchers surveyed nearly 23,000 registered nurses in California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida. They found 65 percent of nurses worked shifts that lasted 12 or 13 hours, a common practice at hospitals.

Nurses who worked shifts that were 10 hours or longer were more than twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs and reported burnout than nurses who worked shorter shifts. What's more, seven out of 10 patients were significantly affected by the long shifts.

"As the proportion of hospital nurses working shifts of more than 13 hours increased, patients' dissatisfaction with care increased," the authors wrote.

The longer the shift, the more patients reported they and the nurses didn't communicate well or didn't receive help as soon as they wanted it.

Researchers noted leadership should encourage nurses to take their vacation time and to leave when the shift ends. More importantly, the study authors pointed to a work culture that "allows nurses to refuse to work overtime without retribution," Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at Penn Nursing, said in a statement Monday.

In the long term, U Penn researchers suggested nurse hours be regulated similar to resident physicians for the sake of patient safety and care.

For more information:
- see the research announcement
- read the Health Affairs article