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Nursing Is One of the Most Dangerous Jobs

Today we cover something that strikes fear in me almost every day: on-the-job injuries as a nurse. My wife works as a nightshift nurse and she puts herself at risk of a back, leg, or shoulder injury every night by lifting and moving patients.

According to surveys by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 35,000 back and other injuries among nursing employees every year, severe enough that they have to miss work.

And nightshift nurses—and by extension travel nurses, who tend to work these shifts—put themselves at risk more than their day shift counterparts. The have the same patient pool but have fewer personnel on staff to tend to these patients. Dayshift nurses don’t have field days by any means, but more personnel on staff with which to move or lift a patient means fewer pounds a nurse has to lift each time. These injury statistics rise every year, so why are modern patients more dangerous than patients of yester year?

Two factors contribute to these increased dangers: patients are sicker and heavier than they were in years past. In today’s healthcare climate, less sick patients get sent to clinics, so only the truly sick, who can’t function as well, get sent to hospitals. This leads to either non-ambulatory patients who need more help from nurses or confused patients that may turn combative when a nurse tries to lift or move them. Equally dangerous are heavier patients occupying these same hospital beds. A 300-400 pound patient’s leg could weigh as much as 70 pounds, and that’s only if you have to lift one leg.

Now you may think that other career fields have it worse. A factory worker comes to mind, but factories require their employees to use mechanical lifting devices for anything weighing over 35-pounds. Think about that. Nurses often lift over 70 pounds and that’s if they’re lucky—and bags of cement (or any other inanimate object) don’t tend to slap, bite or scratch you when you try to lift them.

Medical facilities do have lifting devices, but as an NPR report stated, nurses (and medical facilities) don’t use these devices as often as they should. While the NPR report focused on the lifting devices’ lack of working order (most of these devices were inaccessible, batteries drained, or missing pieces), nurses know that there are other practical reasons why these devices aren’t used all the time even if a medical facility has them and has them in working order.

These same lifting devices consist of factory-grade materials, which means that patients can’t stay in them for long periods of time. If they did, we’d have another NPR article written about patient mistreatment. Combine a nurse’s inability to keep their patients in these devices with the fact that patients often require emergency care—a patient with diarrhea needs to go in a bedpan now, not in the thirty minutes it takes you to hook them into a lifting device—and you get a volatile mixture.

So how can a travel nurse reduce their risk of on-the-job injuries? Many medical facilities promote “safe patient handling” procedures, but let’s face it. There are few safe patient handling procedures for patients weighing 300 pounds or more, so you’ll have to conduct research.

• Patient to nurse ratio. A better ratio means that you’ll have more people helping you when you call for help.
• Check reviews of facilities either through blogs or even the facility’s website—they’ll often post their injury rate and procedures.
• Ask other nurses. If you know someone who worked at the facility you plan to relocate to, great, but you can also join groups like the Gypsy Nurse’s Caravan on Facebook and ask them what their experience was like at a facility.

Unfortunately, nurses lifting heavy, confused, and/or very sick patients is a necessity, and hopefully the nursing shortage will dissipate, but until then, you can take measures to protect yourself as best you can. Good luck with your night shifts, travel nurses, and take care. This country needs you.

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