How Are Nurses Coping During The Pandemic?

A new study published in Nursing Administration Quarterly looked at associations among nurses’ mental and physical Health, lifestyle behaviors, shift length, and workplace wellness support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Based on previous findings from similar studies, we theorized that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a negative impact on the well-being of nurses,” study author Bernadette Mazurek told us. “Moreover, we believed that nurses who worked shorter shift lengths (< 12 hours) and perceived their workplace as supportive of their wellness would have better well-being outcomes than nurses who worked longer shift lengths (> 12 hours) and perceived their workplace as not supportive of their wellness.”

Nurses and other healthcare professionals are facing a mental health pandemic inside of the COVID-19 pandemic that requires urgent action. Burnout has become endemic in healthcare professionals with prevalence rates between 35%-60%. Nurses also report high rates of depression, anxiety, and stress, placing them at greater risk of suicidal action than the general public. The well-being of clinicians can also impact quality and safety of healthcare. 

“We used a cross-sectional survey design,” Mazurek told us. “Registered nurses associated with Trusted Health, a travel nurse technology and staffing company, were contacted via email to participate in the well-being study.”

The survey inquired about health lifestyle behaviors, COVID-19’s impact on healthy lifestyle behaviors, shift length, and workplace wellness support. The survey also contained valid scales for measuring depression, anxiety, stress, professional quality of life, and burnout. 

Descriptive statistics were used to summarize sample characteristics, healthy lifestyle behaviors, mental/physical health, and the changes during COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple logistic regression modelling was used to examine the effects of perceived workplace wellness support and shift length on each healthy lifestyle behavior and health measure.

“Results showed that more than 50% of respondents had worsening mental and physical health in relation to the pandemic,” Mazurek told us. “Compared to nurses whose workplaces provided little or no wellness support, nurses with workplaces that supported their wellness were 3-9 times as likely to have better mental/physical health, no/little stress, no burnout, and high quality of life. Nurses who worked longer shifts had poorer health outcomes than nurses who worked shorter shifts.”

The results were what researchers expected. Nurses tend to prefer the 12-hour shift length, as they perceive that it improves work life balance. However, the study found that nurses working ≥ 12 hours were less likely to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviors and more likely to report worsening physical/mental health due to the pandemic when compared to nurses who worked < 12 hour shifts. 

“Healthcare systems need to invest in creating supportive wellness cultures through evidence-based programs and access to mental health counselling and resources,” Mazurek told us. « Fixing system problems, like long work hours and poor staffing, that contribute to poor clinician well-being should also be a priority as poor clinician well-being adversely impacts healthcare quality, safety, and costs.”

Mazurek also told us that effective evidence-based interventions that improve mental/physical health, well-being and healthy lifestyle behaviors in clinicians include mindfulness, health coaching, deep abdominal breathing, gratitude, cognitive-behavioral therapy/skills building and visual triggers. Evidence-based programs like Mindfulness in Motion and MINDBODYSTRONG for clinicians are also effective in decreasing depression, anxiety, stress, and burnout and improving job satisfaction. 

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