How Shift Length Affects Burnout and Patient Satisfaction

Due to budget cuts and a nursing shortage, it is not uncommon for hospital staff nurses to work 12 hours or more in every shift. A new study shows that this can be highly detrimental, however, as long shifts are likely to cause nurse burnout, dissatisfaction with the job, and higher rates of dissatisfied patients.

Results of the Study

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing examined the links between the length of a nurse’s shift and the patients’ perception of the level of care. Results show that after shifts of 10 or more hours, nurses are two and one-half times likelier to experience dissatisfaction with the job and burnout. In addition, 70% of patients of nurses who work long shifts experienced significant adverse affects to their treatment outcomes.

The study surveyed 23,000 nurses in New Jersey, California, Florida, and Pennsylvania over a period of three years. During the study, 65% of nurses worked 12-13 hour shifts and the percentage that reported burnout and desire to change careers increases dramatically with shift length. The study was published in November in Health Affairs, a prestigious nursing policy journal. In hospitals where the most nurses worked long shifts, a greater percentage of patients reported poor communication with nurses, poor pain control, and delay or lack of needed help.

The study’s authors recommend that hospitals restrict the number of hours that nurses may work consecutively and that state nursing boards consider restricting nurse shift length and the amount of voluntary overtime that may be worked. Finally, they recommend that employers monitor the number of hours nurses work, including those with second jobs. Recommendations

Amy Stimpfel, post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at Penn Nursing states that 12-hour shifts three days a week allow for increased flexibility and a more balanced life for nurses. However, these shifts are often pooled with rotating shifts, overtime, and consecutive shifts. When this happens, nurses are at a high risk of burnout and fatigue and may provide a lower quality of patient care.