If you have worked in the hospital setting for any length of time, you likely are aware of the physicians’ lounge. It’s the protected space where the hard-working medical staff can escape to catch a break or grab a hot beverage. The physicians’ lounge is absolutely necessary. Medical staff members need a space where they can refuel and exhale the stresses that caring for the sick and dying will often place upon their shoulders. My question is: Where is the nurses’ lounge?
Nurses make up the bulk of the hospital workforce and as any good physician well knows, is the mortar that holds things together for the care team and patient. We do not do a good job at providing protected space for nurses to take the same break and exhale as we do for medical staff; I struggle to understand why. Nurses are often unable to take a break and must answer call lights, phone calls, and accept admissions during what should be their protected and uninterrupted break time. In fact, many hospitals and health systems have found themselves in lawsuits for not affording their nursing staff protected and uninterrupted break/meal time. This is unfortunate, but completely preventable.
It is time for health care leaders to demand spaces and time for nurses to take a break, to cry, to meditate, or to close their eyes for 5 minutes. The nurse does not see their patients only during rounds or when something has gone wrong; they are by the patient’s side for hours at a time taking care of the needs of patients and their families. They are the constant providers of care, encouragement, counsel, accommodations, and prayer. Nurses truly give a piece of themselves away to each and every patient and should be provided protected time and space to regain the mental energy needed to fulfill this type of role.
There are many ways to offer protected space and time for nursing staff, and many health care organizations have already put forth efforts to do so. A nurses’ lounge is one option, but it should be in a neutral location away from the care delivery areas. A nurses’ lounge should be equipped with resting spaces, privacy, and refreshments. Meditation sanctuaries, relaxation chairs, or virtual reality rooms are other options. Finding the space for a nurses’ lounge is the easy part of the equation. Logistically, adding break relief nursing staff will ensure staff nurses are able to hand off ownership of care and truly take a break. In summary, doing something to protect nurses from making errors and getting burnt out is better than doing nothing at all. It will take some investment that will certainly show its return. Nurses take care of all of us, and its due time we take the actions to care for them as well.
Trisha Swift is a health care executive.
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