West Lafayette, IN — Nurses are experiencing a new type of psychological harm specific to their daily work – insufficient resource trauma, researchers from Purdue University say in a new study.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and other health care professionals across the country have reported a lack of masks, gloves, gowns and other protective gear to keep them safe while caring for patients with the coronavirus.
The study, led by Karen J. Foli, an associate professor in the Purdue School of Nursing, used an online questionnaire to gather responses. Of the 1,478 completed surveys, 372 registered nurses licensed in the state of Indiana provided written responses to a request for additional comments about on-the-job trauma they experienced.
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Staffing issues were reported by nurses who had to work shifts longer than 12 hours and who were exposed to unsafe situations that jeopardized patient safety. These were described as hurrying through tasks to complete them, falsifying patient care documents, and going without food and hydration during their shifts.
The nurses said they experience a range of negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety, grief, guilt, anger, burnout and flashbacks. Physically, nurses reported nightmares, unhealthy diets and substance use.
“The pandemic has been a dark catalyst to seeing this urgent concern,” Foli wrote for an article published by TheConversation.com. “I know nurses who were told by employers to take care of COVID-19 patients regardless of whether or not adequate PPE was available. Clearly this was a danger to both nurses and patients; surely this qualifies as a traumatizing experience.”
Researchers said the nurses’ comments were “vivid and descriptive, (and) frequently indicated they are still recovering from the traumatic experiences and making sense of what happened to them.”
To mitigate professional sources of trauma, researchers say organizational policy, adequate resources and oversight are needed.
“The pandemic has focused our attention on the mental health needs of health care providers,” Foli wrote. “Nursing organizations have responded, and these efforts are to be applauded. But until we appreciate the sovereignty of nurses, who practice in a way no other health provider does, solutions to avoid trauma will be stalled. And nurses will continue to struggle.”