More than half of nurses who took part in a national survey reported sub-optimal physical and mental health, says study. Moreover, nurses in poorer health had a 26 to 71 percent higher likelihood of reporting medical errors than their healthier peers. Among the 1,790 U.S. nurses who responded to the survey, depression stood out as a major concern and the key predictor of medical errors. "When you're not in optimal health, you're not going to be on top of your game," said lead author Bernadette Melnyk, dean of The Ohio State University's College of Nursing and chief wellness officer for the university.
‘Depression is common among nurses and is linked to a higher likelihood they'll make medical errors.’"Hospital administrators should build a culture of well-being and implement strategies to better support good physical and mental health in their employees. It's good for nurses, and it's good for their patients."
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The study, which appears online in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, also found that nurses who perceived their workplace as conducive to wellness were more likely to report good health.
The National Academy of Medicine has prioritized clinician well-being in its recently launched action collaborative, acknowledging that burnout, compassion fatigue, depression and poor work-life balance affect a large percentage of doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
The new research is the first large-scale national study to link nurses' well-being to self-reported medical errors, Melnyk said.
"Nurses do a great job of caring for other people, but they often don't prioritize their own self-care," she said. "And their work lives are increasingly stressful - patients are sicker, hospitals are crunched financially and nurses are having to find ways to juggle patient care with all of their other assigned tasks, such as tending to the electronic medical record."
Overview of the study
More than half (54 percent) of the nurses reported poor physical and mental health. About a third said they had some degree of depression, anxiety or stress. Less than half said they had a good professional quality of life.
And self-reported medical errors were common. About half the nurses reported medical errors in the past five years.
When researchers compared the wellness data to the medical error data, they saw a significant link between poor health - particularly depression - and medical errors.
While a survey that depends on self-reported perceptions has its limitations, the evidence should prompt efforts to improve the mental and physical health of nurses, physicians and other clinicians, Melnyk said.
"Health care systems and hospitals have to do a better job of creating wellness cultures for their clinicians," she said. "The National Academy of Medicine has identified this as a public health problem and has made clinician well-being a high priority for health care quality and safety."