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They say nurses are real life superheroes. Aside from saving lives, nurses also face dangers every shift. Even though it’s not tangibly intense like what see in action movies, the risks nurses deal are discretely perilous. The real life villains are just lurking around the hospital corners waiting to unfold on nurse’s weakest moments. But what are these silent dangers? Are the risks worth even keeping our profession? Here are risks that nurses are venturing every day:

1. Sleep deprivation

I admit I never get enough of sleep especially during my working days and I still feel unrested even after my two off days. The changing shifts makes me sleep deprived. And probably I’m not alone experiencing this. Morning shift to graveyard shift makes your body most of the time inoperable.

Studies show that disturbances in circadian rhythms may lead to reductions in the length and quality of sleep and may increase fatigue and sleepiness. Long work hours may reduce the time available for sleep, leading to sleep deprivation or disturbed sleep and incomplete recovery from work, (Trinkoff, et al. 2007). But what’s the big deal if nurses are sleep deprived?

The Institute of Medicine estimates nearly 20 percent of all serious motor vehicle accidents are associated with driver sleepiness. It places the direct medical cost of our collective sleep debt at tens of billions of dollars. The loss in terms of work productivity are even higher. Then there are the softer costs—the damaged or lost relationships, the jobs tired people don’t have the energy to apply for, the muting of enjoyment in life’s pleasures (Max, 2010).

2. Social Disruption

A normal social life will always be a challenge for nurses. You probably missed out several parties, reunions, or even dates simply because you are NURSE-ON-DUTY. Perhaps you spend less time with your own family because you are working around to comfort other strangers.

According to Trinkoff, et al. (2007), working at unusual times may make it difficult to interact with family and maintain other social contacts. Too little time with family and friends is the most frequent and most negatively rated complaint among shift workers. The extent to which such disruptions occur depends both on the worker’s schedule, type of family, gender, presence of children, and the degree of flexibility in the worker’s social contacts and leisure pursuit.

3. Infectious Disease

We wear proper PPE’s, drink vitamins, and wash our hands a hundred times, but is it truly enough to keep us away from being infected? Do you know that work-acquired infectious diseases are among the risks all healthcare workers face? Annual exposure to infection has the prevalence rates range of <10% to 44%. Worldwide severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak was hospital-based, and healthcare workers made up a large proportion of cases, accounting for 37% to 63% of suspected SARS patients in highly affected countries. In many countries, nurses were the largest single group affected by SARS (Stone, Clarke, Cimiotti & Correa-de-Araujo, 2004).

4. Spine Injuries

When we are in nursing school, our clinical instructors always emphasizes proper body mechanics. Sadly, we tend to forget all these ideas especially when a busy shift sets in. The result? After 8 hours of nursing care, the nurse manifested back pain secondary to heavy lifting and manual turning.

But did you know that there is no such thing as safe manual lifting? According to Stokowski (2014), regardless of body mechanics, every episode of manually lifting, turning, or transferring patients can result in microinjuries to the spine. The nurse might not feel the effects immediately, but these cumulative microinjuries can eventually result in a debilitating condition. The problem of musculoskeletal injury is exacerbated by the aging and increasingly overweight patient population, yet in many settings, nurses do not have the tools needed to safely lift and transfer these immobile patients. A survey of critical care nurses revealed that less than one half of employers supplied patient lifting equipment, and injury rates were higher when lifting equipment was not available.

5. Needle stick Injuries

Have you experienced sticking your fingers to a syringe needle during an emergency? Or you just thoughtlessly recapped a syringe and injured yourself? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 385,000 sharps-related injuries occur annually among healthcare workers in hospitals. It has been estimated about half or more of sharps injuries go unreported, (American Nurses Association, 2016).

6. Hazardous Drugs, Chemicals & Radiation

There are certain chemicals, medications, and diagnostic procedures that seem harmless, but the debilitating effects are unsurmountable. About 8 million U.S. healthcare workers are potentially exposed to hazardous drugs, (CDC, 2014). In the 1970s, several chemotherapy agents were linked to secondary leukemia but it was accompanied by the notion that health risks might extend to persons occupationally exposed to the drugs, (Polovich, 2004) and basically nurses are the ones preparing these medications.

Even radiation poses harm to nurses even though they are not directly operating the radiology unit. Nurses spend more time in close contact with patients than any other healthcare worker, so when radiation is present, nurses are likely to be exposed. Unfortunately, some nurses may not be aware of the extent of their exposure to radiation, (Stokowski, 2014).

7. Assault

A restless patient kicks you in the eye because he wants to get out of bed. A folk verbally abused you for not meeting their demands and the quality of care they expect. These are just few examples nurses face shift. Have you experienced being physically or verbally assaulted by a patient or a folk? Most of the times, we let these things go because we

But did you know that health care workers who are assaulted experience short-term and long-term emotional reactions, including anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, irritability, apathy, self-blame, and helplessness? That’s according to a study by Gates, Gillespie, & Succop (2011).

8. Depression and suicidal tendencies

Studies indicate that health care workers have higher rates of substance abuse and suicide than other professions and elevated rates of depression and anxiety linked to job stress. In addition to psychological distress, other outcomes of job stress include burnout, absenteeism, employee intent to leave, reduced patient satisfaction, and diagnosis and treatment errors (CDC, 2008).

Nurses deal not only with dying patients but also with their silent killers. Sometimes, you probably come across with the thought: is my profession even worth all the sacrifices and risks? Well, truly it takes a lot of courage and guts to become a nurse. After all, we are real life heroes.

References:

  • American Nurses Association (2016). Sharps Injury Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.nursingworld.org/safeneedles
  • CDC (2008). Exposure to Stress: Occupational Hazards in Hospitals. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2008-136/pdfs/2008-136.pdf
  • CDC (2014). Hazardous drug exposures in health care. Workplace Safety & Health Topics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/hazdrug/
  • Gates, D., Gillespie, G. & Succop, P. (2011). Violence Against Nurses and its Impact on Stress and Productivity. Medscape. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/746092
  • Max, D. (2010). The Secrets of Sleep. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/05/sleep/max-text
  • Polovich, M. (2004). “Safe Handling of Hazardous Drugs”. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol. 9 No. 3, Manuscript 5. Available: www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Volume92004/No3Sept04/HazardousDrugs.aspx
  • Trinkoff AM, Geiger-Brown JM, Caruso CC, et al. (2008). Personal Safety for Nurses. In: Hughes RG, editor. Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); Chapter 39. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2661/
  • Stokowski, L. (2014, Jan. 14). The Risky Business of Nursing. Medscape. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/818437_2
  • Stone PW, Clarke S, Cimiotti J, Correa-de-Araujo R. (2004). Nurses’ working conditions: implications for infectious disease. Emerg Infect Disease. DOI: 10.3201/eid1011.040253. Retrieved from http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/10/11/04-0253.
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Rina Malones is currently working as a critical care/acute stroke nurse. Besides from blogging, she's also studying International Health at University of the Philippines Open University.
  • Reflecting on 35 years of Nursing, Yup, all of the above. Hard work, hard on the body. Dealing with responsibility for lives, families, stress. Ok pay at first, got better. Better in cities. Good benefits. Loved the staff, the hierarchy was trying at best. Doctors: Love or Hate or both. Some patients you can’t forget, some you can’t save, some don’t die, the young drop dead right in front of you. Hard work, Rewarding work, knowing you make a difference in someone’s suffering, hoping when you need help, your contibution somehow made things better.

    • Nurse on duty

      That was an amazing message Mary. Thank you for sharing this with us. I believe that the product of our profession is priceless.

  • Nurse on duty

    To all nurses out there, have a safe duty day everyone!

  • Vocal Nurse

    There are days when it’s not worth the trouble to get up and go on duty because the so-called risks. Some patients can’t even say thank you. These dangers are real, but people who aren’t nurses will never know just how we feel.