Long shifts for nurses may hurt patients

Jan. 19, 2011 at 12:59 AM
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BALTIMORE, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers link nurses' long work hours with patients' greater likelihood of dying from pneumonia and heart attack.

Researchers at University of Maryland School of Nursing and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore find the nursing schedule component most frequently related to mortality -- along with long work hours -- is the lack of time off the job.

"Now that we have data that these conditions affect the public adversely, there is even more reason for providers in each hospital and clinic to look at the situation and find solutions," study co-author Alison Trinkoff says in a statement.

The findings, published in Nursing Research, suggest the long hours of 12-hour nursing shifts -- begun during 1980s amid nationwide nurse shortages and currently in use at almost all U.S. hospitals -- affect the duration of quality sleep in nurses, affecting the alertness and vigilance effective nursing requires.

"Although many nurses like these schedules because of the compressed nature of the workweek, the long schedule -- as well as shift work in general -- lead to sleep deprivation," Trinkoff says. "The finding that work schedule can impact patient outcomes is important and should lead to further study and examination of nursing work schedules."

Trinkoff and colleagues analyzed data from 71 acute care hospitals in Illinois and North Carolina as well as survey responses of 633 randomly selected nurses working in the hospitals.

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