The study found that nurses reported having only 25.7 minutes break during their entire shift. Nurses working the longest hours were least likely to receive appropriate breaks (e.g., 10 minutes every 2 hours and a 30-minute meal period free of patient care responsibilities).
Research demonstrates that overworked, tired nurses make more errors. They are more likely to make a medication error and they are less able to think critically. They may fail to catch the subtleties in a patient's case that indicate a serious problem, leading, eventually, to failure to rescue (which CMS is now tracking, incidentally).
This skewed culture can also be evidence of a deeper problem of horizontal hostility, also known as bullying, lateral violence, or nurses "eating their young." It manifests itself in a culture where nurses complain about having to watch someone's patients while they take a quick break. Or gossiping about so-and-so being a "bad nurse" because he leaves his patients to get lunch.
Instead of being viewed as a rite of passage, or a part of nursing, it should be required that nurses take breaks. Senior leadership should pay attention to whether nurses take breaks for the sake of staff and patient health.
Here are three tips leadership can implement: